Hugely intelligent, hypnotic new fantasy...
Fantasy is like Bovril. There are those who will suffer an immediate aversion and yet others who will experience instant bliss; but unlike Marmite – it can be for everyone, in the right doses. With three main plot strands, Nights of Villjamur is a highly complex and intricate plot and hence takes it time in building up sufficient back-story and ensuring adequate depth of characterisation and geographical depiction is created before launching into the real meatiness of the story. On the one hand, there is the albino Commander, Brynd. A modest man, with an astounding level of self-awareness and guileless perception of the realities of life in the Empire of Jamur; perpetually caught between a rock and a hard place. Barely escaping a devastating attack on his Night Guards with his own life, Brynd has his suspicions that he is being manipulated but is powerless to prevent his strings being pulled. After the untimely suicide of the Emperor Johynn; Brynd is dispatched to retrieve the self-exiled eldest daughter and heir, Rika. On his return, he is immediately called upon to investigate rumours of genocide in the Northern reaches of the Empire. It is clear that Brynd, as Commander is a potential threat to a certain Councillor’s ambitions; what is equally clear is Brynd loyalist and rather endearingly humble attitude.
Simultaneously, we have a young man from the island of Folke who has made his way inside the great city of Villjamur and into the bosom of the court itself. Cutting a dashing character, but suffering with scruples the length of a tic (despite all his grand ‘I’m-doing-it-for-my-mother’ gestures); Randur Estevu is the inevitable ‘hero’. Young, athletic and great at dancing, never mind all the sexing up of elderly ladies and robbing them blind; Randur still manages to secure the heart of the late Emperor’s youngest daughter, Eir. Theirs is a rather cynical love story, which would have sat better if Randur’s character didn’t come across so tasteless and soulless. Perhaps Newton enjoys the challenge of recreating his characters; moulding them from one shape to another – either way, even Randur’s heroic efforts at the end of the novel fail to win me over.
Finally, we have the real Fantasy element: the Cultists. Originally a single civilisation, jealousies and in-house bickering caused them to split into various sects, with each order having its own hierarchy and rules of conduct. Whilst it is clear that there are multiple orders, only two are really introduced in this first book: the Order of the Equinox and the Order of Dawnir. Newton toys with us by cleverly colouring our perceptions of the Equinox sect. Dartun is obsessed with gaining knowledge; but with his own immortality suddenly threatened, he is determined to undercover true power over life and death. In so doing, he creates an army of undead in particularly gruesome experimentations. But Dartun is also intent of discovering the Realm Gates – gates to other worlds, which he believes are more than simple myths. His counterpart, Papus, is higher-minded, or so we are led to believe. She believes she has the moral high-ground and in adamant that Dartun cannot obtain such powerful knowledge for himself. As the book progresses, the lines of good and bad are blurred to point where it is difficult to establish whose motivations or ideals are the better.
Nights of Villjamur is an extremely ambitious novel; asking for some serious cranial activity in order for a reader to get into its rhythm. The plotlines are extravagant and elaborately fashioned, with each individual strand eventually falling into its rightful place in the bigger picture and plenty of action, blood, gore and sex to satisfy the most ravenous of readers; although some may dislike the occasional crassness. Nights of Villjamur may not be a literary masterpiece, but it is an intelligent novel, with subtleties and nuances, darkness and starkness, depth and superficialities and mildly hypnotic; it will slowly wrap itself around you like the coils of a python – squeezing everything else out until only the story exists.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012