Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

May 25, 2010

Mark Charan Newton – City of Ruin

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , , , , — Sam @ 11:31 am

This is the direct sequel to his earlier Nights of Villjamur, and it’s even better. He still has the same taste for overexplanation, and there are a few instances of characters telling each other things they already know, but this one is definitely a complete story within the larger plot arc, and it’s not necessary to read the first before this.

The world is clearly the deep future of our own, enough millennia into the future that the sun has cooled and dimmed to red, in the tradition of Vance’s Dying Earth or Farmer’s Dark is the Sun. Oddly, the connection doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as it usually does in fantasy. I think that’s partly because it is deep time rather than post-apocalyptic, and doesn’t have any of the “clever” little references that set my teeth on edge.

“Ah, yes, you were admiring my antique soup jug, I think?” The slender man’s eyes darkened with pleasure as he traced a finger along its curving flank, following the strange words somehow inked into the ivory-yellow surface: “Russell Hobbs”.

He doesn’t hesitate to kill characters off, in grotesque and meaningless ways, and generally at a viewpoint distance. On the other hand, he also doesn’t hesitate to show complex, interesting plans (for, eg., killing characters off) crashing and burning abruptly. There’s a very strong arbitrary-and-meaningless vibe going on throughout, which might make this sound somewhat Moorcockian (and the sheer prevalence of fantastic and in fact downright bloody weird imagery—I particularly liked the flying monkeys—could reinforce this impression) but he does manage to pull off the feat of having an albino protagonist who is nothing whatsoever like Elric.

One very good thing this book features is a competent, sensible, interesting older woman. You’d think there was some Fantasy Bylaw against those, most of the time… and, speaking of Fantasy Bylaws, this one does indeed have a map in the front. I suspect that after Nights of Villjamur came out, the Fantasy Establishment went around to the offices of Tor UK and started making comments about what a nice place they had here. Not sure what the point is, but if it keeps the traditionalists happy, there’s no harm in it.

April 8, 2010

Mark Charan Newton – Nights of Villjamur

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , , , — Sam @ 8:52 am

I’ve been horribly behind on my blogging, because I’ve been incredibly busy with art projects, with preparations for Eastercon, and with the holiday I’m about to take in the Highlands. So I’m going to get even more behind.

I just wanted to do this one quick review, though. Everyone’s been talking about Nights of Villjamur recently, and with good reason—it’s great.

It’s an interesting original vision, with a powerful central image. A glacial period (not an Ice Age as the book copy suggests) is heading for the Empire, and the rulers have to make hard choices to get through it, complicated by all the usual afflictions of internal politics, strange magics from the dawn of time, and invaders from Elsewhere. All of which may be linked…

And that “may” is important. This is very much the first book of a series, and almost none of the plot strands are resolved inside this book. Doesn’t stop it being a good read, but it isn’t a whole text.

Thematically, it’s Erikson-lite, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m not sure the world is ready to cope with two of him. This is definitely quest fantasy[1] rather than city fantasy, but only one of the viewpoint characters has anything even resembling the traditional portal-quest trajectory, and even then he’s rather more independent than the usual farmboy type.

I do have a couple of issues with this book. First, it’s heavy on the infodumping; one of the favourite pastimes of nearly every main character is to sink into a reverie and tell us about their past or what the city’s like[2], and sometimes the narrative voice does this too.

Second, the names threw me a bit. Partly, the clever mix of different styles and cultural origins is a nod to a huge multicultural Empire (we have botanical names like Urtica and Rumex alongside Ghuda and Mewún, and garuda fly above the city while draugr menace it and banshees wail within it) but I still have no clue how to pronounce Goúle, Fúe, or Júula. The best I can do is to imagine that that’s an umlaut instead. Tineag’l, on the other hand…

On the upside, we see a well-written homosexual romance before page 100, and nobody’s being coy about it either.


[1] However, there is no map in the front, and a DeLillo quotation. We are clearly into much more serious territory here.

[2] But only once. We all know these people in real life, and they Just Keep Doing It, over and over again, worrying at the past or clutching it like a favourite teddy bear. We never see these reverie memories repeated, in books…

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