I’m always kind of hesitant to read a book that the entire speculative world has already read and raved about. I get nervous because, what if the book just doesn’t live up to the hype? What if I read it and end up being the only person alive who hated it? So I avoided Nights of Villjamur like the plague until a friend of mine emailed me and said they really wanted me to read it because they were curious about what I would think due to my infatuation with gray plots and plenty of grunge. Of course I had to read it.
I had a literary itch when I picked this book up. I just needed to read…something and I wasn’t quite sure what that something was. Luckily for me, this book seemed to scratch my itch in a perfect way. It was grungy, dark, and filled with plenty of grays without being forced into any of those categories or going over the top and absolutely thought provoking and mature.
Be still, my heart.
This book is nothing short of a dying-earth epic with the city of Villjamur the shining jewel in the middle of it all. The plot is sprawling and surprisingly tightly woven. Usually with books that contain such an epic scope there are points of mass confusion (hearken ye unto Gardens of the Moon), but Newton did an incredible job at keeping everything streamlined and understandable. What’s more was that Newton seemed to perfectly flush out any info dump moments, which is something I was specifically watching for with a novel this sprawling. The plot unraveled naturally (in its many directions), as did the world, cultures and magic system, all keeping pace with each other.
Newton seems to almost heavily measure and control the pace of his plot and the amount of information given within this book. Due to that, readers glean their information about the world and magic system from subtle cues within personal or interpersonal dialogue. I actually enjoyed this as it helped me keep a feeling of exploration and discovery throughout this work. His characters are amazingly well fleshed out; realistic to the point that readers may feel emotionally invested in their plights. The dialogue is believable and flowing and there’s enough dry humor to keep me well pleased.
And the writing. Oh, God alive, the writing. I could get lost for ages in books written this well and never need to surface for air...or reality.
The idea of an empire being threatened from an outside force is just about as unique in fantasy as Scientology is in Hollywood, but even with that major drawback Newton manages to keep his plot fresh, invigorated and mysterious enough to make me devour pages late into the night. The addition of an impending ice age and the creatures he fills his book with (unique species, cults, orders of religion and the like) were nothing short of captivating. This is only helped by his perfectly polished prose which makes his world, plots, and characters gleam.
Newton isn’t afraid to tackle many societal issues in this work. While many fantasy novels focus on the noble class, the so-called social underdogs usually seem to play a minor roll, if any, in many epic books. I was impressed with how Newton used economic class in Nights of Villjamur as a major political plot point. He also bravely focused on other social aspects I won’t mention here, which many authors seem almost afraid to mention and made me draw upon problems we face in our own world. Maybe this point only matters to me, but many of the issues mentioned in this book are incredibly dear to my heart and because of this, I found myself applauding Newton for mentioning them and boldly integrating them into his world in a way that will make people study and think about them in a different light.
What impresses me about what I just mentioned is that he didn’t do any of this in a soapbox way. I never got the feeling that the author was standing and declaring his mores through his prose to all those who read his book. It flows naturally with his world and plot and he’s never heavy handed with these issues. I never get the feeling that he is declaring his own personal perspective in these pages which is a feeling I get from authors quite often when they try to insert social issues into their books.
That’s not to say that this book isn’t flawed. In a world of grays and skewed morality, I had an issue with Counselor Urtica, who stuck out like a sore thumb, right away. He seemed to suffer from the genre stereotypes I found pleasantly lacking almost everywhere else in the book. I found his basic plot sadly predictable. Randur Estevu also seems to be colored slightly by predictability once his motives are found out. In general, in a world that shined with unique colors and contrasts, and all the grit I’ve been craving in my books recently, these two characters lacked a bit of luster and shine for me.
Nights of Villjamur was an incredible read. It seemed to scratch the itch I needed scratched. It’s unique, polished and filled with plenty of grays, flawed characters, complex cultures, social issues, politics, violence, sexuality and whatever else you want to throw in there. Though despite the fact that it seems to contain all of these elements, Newton balances them perfectly and even if there were a few flaws, I can easily forgive and overlook them, which is only made easier by his amazing writing and shocking sprawling, tightly woven plot. Mark Charan Newton is an author to watch and if this is any sign for future publications, I’m predicting he has the potential to cause massive ripples in the fantasy genre.