Nights of Villjamur review

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nights of Villjamur review by Mark Charan Newton
Nights of Villjamur is the first book of the Legends of the Red Sun series as well as the first novel for Mark Charan Newton. This fantasy debut novel was positively received on the blogosphere and as I always like to have new series to follow, I gave it a try. It's a great start with a good potential but not a flawless one.

Villjamur is the wondrous legendary capital city of the Jamur Empire. An ice age is coming, and a mass of refugees wait at the gates of the city. Albino captain Brynd Lathraea is just coming back from a disastrous mission when he's asked to go fetch the new Empress. Meanwhile, a young impostor named Randur Estevu comes to the city seeking a cure for his dying mother. He will meet with a cultist, Dartùn, a man seeking to keep his immortality. While the chancellor schemes behind the Empress back about the fate of the refugees, an old rumel investigator, Rumex Jeryd, is looking in on some mysterious murders.

Nights of Villjamur is not a full-fledged epic fantasy novel. It's the story of several disillusioned individuals every so often mixed up together in a grim epic setting, making the most of their life inside a grand city in a dire state. The way the author writes, you really feel like that the life of the characters in the book is a fantastical representation of our world (a bit on the pessimist side). Many aspect of our modern life (political power responsibility, individualism, cynicism, etc.) that are probably very important for him are integrated. It's not that much thought-provoking but you get a feeling that the inhabitants of the city live a life very parallel to our own. Don't worry though, it's still a fantasy novel.

About this city, I understood that Mr. Newton really wanted us to believe that it's special, ethereal, and marvellous and even though it's a good try, he did not completely achieve it. The protagonists often talk about the city in loving terms but it's not perfectly demonstrated with the world building\descriptions. However, the atmosphere was just right, I could almost sense the cold weather, the snow falling and the sense of dread in the citizens.

Not all the characters are equally refined but a good majority of them are quite compelling. The commander of the army, Captain Brynd Lathraea is truly believable as an experience elite soldier with a good conscience although I think that his sexual orientation based scenes involving his secret life were not really adding much. He's already shunned because of his skin color which I think was enough. As for Randur, the young fighting\dancing trainer of the empress sister, he's fun to follow but his storyline will fit more nicely with the global story in the second book. The most interesting protagonist was definitely the investigator, Jeryd. There's an impression of realism surrounding him and you care for his sake. His story alone could have made a good detective novel.

The author switch frequently from one PoV to the next, alternating between the minor characters and the main heroes. The switches are clumsy now and then and the 'order' of the plots (or the choice of character PoV as the chapters change) didn't feel right for me at times but this will probably be corrected by itself as Mark writes more novels. The pace is not really affected by this, it flows nicely. Otherwise the writing is neat and fluid. For me, it felt 'modern' (if I can use that term in this instance) for a fantasy novel... I mean like a prose up to date with our own world. As a little example, it's not often that you read words like 'delete' or 'ultra' in a fantasy book.

The story of Nights of Villjamur is obviously not over and unlike many of the recent series I read, there's no real feeling of closure when reaching the end of the book. Most of the plots are wide open at the end of the book which can be annoying for some but I think that this will create a large potential for the remainder of the tale. I'll read the next iteration for sure (the second book of the series will be named City of ruin and you can see the cover and read the blurb here).

As for magic, Newton chose to go with a touch of originality in using relics. The cultists are using these devices made from ancient technology as their means to travel long distances, stop time, and heal wounds or as weapons. A purple glow is associated with their use which without really knowing why, I found to be the perfect choice of color within this world.

Why should you read this book? Because it stands out in term of writing style from the rest of the current fantasy writers crowd. Also because of all the possibilities that the next books will offer. There's is some truly believable characters in this novel that merit your attention. And finally, consider that this is a stylish critique of our world in a fantastic 'noir' setting, so give it a try.

Technically, I think that the Tor cover for Nights of Villjamur is beautiful, a slick and very good representation of the 'essence' of the book. There is no map and this is a lack, it would have been helpful judging by the number of islands in the archipelago. The book is 451 pages.

Nights of Villjamur review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 8 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 / 10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 8 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Mark Charan Newton page


Anonymous said...

This review is fantastic. I love your grading system at the bottom.

Phil said...

Thanks, glad you like it.

Hot Cover Girls Central said...

very interesting reviews, thanks for sharing. :)

-cathy young

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