Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Review by Stephanie Gelder
Disclaimer: Iíve never been a fan of dark, gritty, sweeping political sagas about the corruptness of corrupt politicians and how they corrupt things. I read the paper for that, to find out who / what my local MP has been swindling this week. Iím also not a huge fan of ensemble casts. I picked up this book because it was on three for two in the book shop and it had a pretty cover. Yes I am that shallowÖWith that in mind:
An ice age is looming. Thousands of refugees descend upon Villjamur, hoping for refuge from the impending ice. But there's trouble all around. The emperor is growing increasingly paranoid about his position, and his suicide leaves the city rudderless just when it needs direction most. Brynd Lathraea, Commander of the elite Nightguard, heads out to escort the emperor's daughter, Rika, home to take the throne. But other people have their eye on the throneÖ
At the same time, Investigator Jeryd of the city's Inquisition finds himself investigating the mysterious murder of a councillor, while trying to come to terms with his wife leaving him, and the possibility of wooing her back. A young rake on a mission arrives in the city with his own hidden agenda and proceeds to charm the pants (and jewellery) off of several noblewomen. Worse, reports come in of some sort of massacre on the northern islands of the empire. In this land under a red, dying sun, events are about to come to a head...
So a sweeping epic of political corruptness set against a background of an Ice Age. So far, so George RR Martin. Lots of different characters to follow. GRRM, again.
So, my minor nits aside this is an impressive debut. The prose is reasonably tight and workmanlike rather than lyrical. It has a deliberate, sprawling pace rather than being a real page turner, but never so slow that you feel like nodding off. The world building is deft (other than as noted below) and it has a real dark and gritty feel to it. You can really feel yourself there. Events are set up with care Ė almost too much in fact, as not much comes as a surprise.
Unfortunately this is where we come to my nits, which, apart from my noted preferences above, are relatively minor. The book is littered with examples of how the author is in love with his grasp of vocabulary Ė never before have I had to go to the dictionary so much in one book, and I have a pretty good grasp of vocab. One or two of these every now and again would have been fine. I like learning new words, though having them be clear in context is always a better option, and often these arenít. But when, on occasion, you get two or three a page that have no context, it just gets frustrating. Extraneous names are also bandied about, confusing the issue. Considering there is no map of the area, do we need to have as a list the names of all the villages they DONíT go to? For me, it just means I end up ignoring them unless they actually become important, or else I get cross-eyed in a sea of names that mean absolutely nothing in the story.
Occasionally I felt hit over the head with information as it was forced onto me so blatantly, and again occasionally some things could have been shown more clearly. But not often Ė for the most part the author has kept on the fine line rather than fall off either side.
Again, this is where personal preference comes into play. Some people like all that extra information, just as some people love an ensemble cast. And this cast is varied, well written if maybe just a tad on the bland side, but the narrative swaps between them so often (and so rapidly at times, in fact we see them for as little as half a page before it swoops off after someone else) I felt like I was just getting to know them and BANG! Off we go to another. As a result I never knew who I was supposed to be rooting for, and ended up rooting, or caring, for none. Except maybe Jeryd. Bless. Of course on the plus side of this is, if you donít like a character, thereíll be another one along in a minute. Plenty of people love this style though, and if youíre one, youíll like this.
If you like stories of sweeping political shenanigans involving a cast of millions (OK, about a dozen), if you love GRRMís A Song of Ice and Fire, this is for you.
Itís not my cup of tea, but it will be for plenty Ė I can think of half a dozen people I know whoíll love it. If you like it down and dirty, realistic to the core, show every wart and the pus that seeps from it, then youíll like this. Sadly for the author, I donít Ė but I can see that itís well written and will probably be very popular, for good reason. So Iím in the odd position of scoring this book 8 out of 10 even though I didnít really care for it.
Final verdict Ė this is an author to watch.
Anon from Anon
I can't say I hated this book, at all, but I definitely didn't like it, though I read the whole thing. I definitely wouldn't compare it to GRRM. Here, we have a potentially interesting world and story, poorly executed in the details. Some of my major complaints echo the review above. 1. Vocab - There are many, many synonyms for "to walk" in English. Amble. Stride. Flounce. Sidle. Mosey. Yet Charan only ever(!) uses "shamble". This is all well and good when refering to the undead, who are expected to shamble, but I don't expect to see it elsewhere unless the characters are good and drunk. Never have I seen so much shambling going on! I suspect he doesn't know what the word actually means. Same for "spurious". This word crops up in a couple of places, in contexts where the meaning is not obvious. If one applies the exact meaning of spurious within the context implied, you get an interesting use of the meaning of the word, but with no other hints of WHY the thing is spurious in the prose, you start to wonder if Charan thinks the word means something else. Generally, this is an issue. Big words crop up in descriptions, and while they seem accurate in their usage, the surrounding prose doesn't support them, and you can't tell just what Charan is trying to convey. 2. The story(s) themselves are quite clunky, as the review above points out. Major plot points are glossed over, backstories neglected (who the heck is Jurro??? how does he figure in???), and threads don't come together. It's clear the story is moving to book two, but some resolution is ideal at the end of each section. GRRM gets away with it because his books are achingly long, allowing him the space to create nearly separate threads for each character, but here it falls far short. Very often I got the sense that the author, at various points, was writing himself out of a corner he'd not been careful to avoid.
Stephanie from Leicestershire
An exciting first book. There seems to be a lot of potential in this series of books. I'm very excited about this and will be reading the second in the series as soon as I can. The characters, are slightly different to normal, but not so different as to make them totally alien, but it's grown up fantasy :)
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