Review: Nights of Villjamur
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR (Amazon), by Mark Charan Newton, has finally been released in the US. There was a fair amount of hype about the novel coming out of the UK, and where there is hype, there is usually heaps of disappointment. Anyone remember BONESHAKER (EBR Review)?. However in this case, we are treated to a solid debut novel.
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR is pushed as a Fantasy Mystery, though in reality the mystery element is pretty low-key. Villjamur is an ancient fortress inhabiting one of the islands of an archipelago whose inhabitants are preparing for the onset of an ice age. Within the city, we are witness to a string of brutal murders of various Councilmen. This is where the Mystery element comes in, as we are introduced to Jeryd, one of Villjamur’s investigators. Additionally we have Eir, the daughter to the Emperor of the Jamur Empire; Tuya, the prostitute; and Byrnd, the Commander of the Night Guard (the elite, personal guard to the Emperor and his family). The PoVs jump around quickly (and come from more characters than the ones mentioned), but they are always clear, and never break any of the PoV switching rules that other authors are guilty of. The characters are all solid, if a tad predictable at times. We found we were easily interested in all of them, and never once skipped PoVs like we do in a Jordan novel (cheap shot, we know).
While VILLJAMUR is a good read, it does have some problems (though some people won’t see them as such). Mostly, it seems like Newton is holding back the whole time. There are some truly imaginative ideas here, but not enough time is spent on them. The different races are awesome, but under-utilized. The mix of magic and technology is impressive, yet unfocused. Really, a lot of it felt like Newton was trying to go the route of Weird Fiction like China Miéville, but pulled back in an attempt to grab a little more of the mainstream audience–hard to fault him for that. VILLJAMUR is a good book as is, but had Newton let loose some more, it could have been incredible.
The other issue we have is in relation to the city of Villjamur itself. We never really had an idea of the size of it. It seems huge, but at the same time we never see the scale. Additionally the encroachment of winter is never fully realized. We’ve read JV Jones, and in her current series you can FEEL the cold as you read. In fact we have to put on warmer clothes when we start to read her books. The weather is 100% tangible. In VILLJAMUR we don’t get that. Every so often, we will be reminded of the cold by a character saying, “I’m freezing” or something similar. Newton would do well to read over some JV Jones and get a real feel for how winter should be written. It would make the plight this world faces much more grim and REAL.
If you have paid any bit of attention to the release of this novel, you know that a main character, Byrnd, is gay. You want our opinion? This is how you should handle a character of this persuasion. Newton does it right. Byrnd’s sexuality feels like it is part of his character rather than just thrown in for eye-popping shock value (looking at you Richard K. Morgan) or because absolutely nothing is happening and you want there to be some façade of character diversity (paging Robin Hobb). In other words, don’t beat us over the head with it, or make it feel tacked-on. Make it part of the character. Mr. Newton, you did awesome. Long-distance high-five.
Is NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR worth your time? Heck yes! The mystery element could have been disguised better, and Newton needs to really let loose, but VILLAJMUR is still a great novel. Its tone is dark, its characters real, and its ideas fantastic. Again, if Newton will stop being so conservative with the weird, he could very well turn into a top-shelf author.
Thank goodness the second book, CITY OF RUIN, is already available in the UK (and therefore in Steve’s collection). We are extremely optimistic, and have some high hopes. Can’t. Wait.
- Recommended Age: 17+
- Language: Yep. We’d say somewhere in between Barclay and Abercrombie.
- Violence: Well yeah, we are talking about some murders, the threat of war, as well as some other stuff (vague, we know, but we don’t want to spoil it)
- Sex: Yes. He is descriptive, but never too crazy. Newton doesn’t go into Richard K Morgan territory, but he can still get a vivid point across.
Mark seems to be quite the active blogger, which is fantastic. Go check out his site.