The Book of Transformation is Mark Charan Newton third novel in the Legends of the Red Sun saga. One more novel will complete the series but hopefully, the author will return to this world or start a new concept full of weirdness and originality.
A new and corrupt Emperor seeks to rebuild the ancient structures of Villjamur to give the people of the city hope in the face of great upheaval and an oppressing ice age. But when a stranger called Shalev arrives, empowering a militant underground movement, crime and terror becomes rampant. The Inquisition is always one step behind, and military resources are spread thinly across the Empire. So Emperor Urtica calls upon cultists to help construct a group to eliminate those involved with the uprising, and calm the populace. But there’s more to The Villjamur Knights than just phenomenal skills and abilities – each have a secret that, if exposed, could destroy everything they represent.Investigator Fulcrom of the Villjamur Inquisition is given the unenviable task of managing the Knights’, but his own skills are tested when a mysterious priest, who has travelled from beyond the fringes of the Empire, seeks his help. The priest’s existence threatens the church, and his quest promises to unweave the fabric of the world. And in a distant corner of the Empire, the enigmatic cultist Dartun Súr steps back into this world, having witnessed horrors beyond his imagination. Broken, altered, he and the remnants of his cultist order are heading back to Villjamur. And all eyes turn to the Sanctuary City, for Villjamur’s ancient legends are about to be shattered…
The series started with a 'Noir Fantasy' novel set in an elegant, daunting and weird architectural amalgam of a city covered in snow that became my favorite debut of 2009. Nights of Villjamur is an atmospheric book with great characters and small plots that are even more interesting than the meta story. Then came City of Ruin, where that larger story arc took flight and where weirdness found its home. Newton imagination flourished in the second opus and he remarkably created a unique atmosphere and setting.
In The Book of Transformation, the author is still on target where his writing is concerned, taking into account the elements that made his first two novels such a success for me. Moreover, he eliminates all the little details that could have affected his prose previously. The ethereal feeling of his world blends smoothly and expertly with the references or parallels with our world. In that aspect, the third novel is still a charm, a demarcation from the crowd. As such, the character of Lan's transsexual situation, the exploration of superhero lore and the moral dilemma created by the service to a power of dubious honesty and ethics are demonstration enough.
Where I think the penultimate novel felt less accomplished than City of Ruin is in some of the individual storylines of the protagonists. The cast is grounded on solid basis but their evolution through their ordeals is not always executed as well as in the previous novel. Investigator Fulcrom is the exception. If I take Tane and Vuldon for example, one a spoiled rich aide wanting to make a better world and the other a fallen legend, who both get the mandate to become superheroes for the city's sake; I would have though and in fact expected that they would challenge the authority they faced, more so after their secrets are unveiled. Only Lan, the sweet ex-acrobat who wasn't born in the right body remains true to herself in that aspect.
Fulcrom may be an exception but he is not Jeryd, although he comes close, maybe too much at first. He has his own demons and after a couple of chapters he becomes intriguing and unique. Newton really has a knack for writing great detectives. I think that this protagonist ought to be one of the ideal persona for Mark. Being in his head and hearing his concerns even feels like reading about a part of ourselves thrown in a mysterious world.
The presence of Ulryk, an outcast priest of the cult of Jorsalir looking to summon a god and the come back of Dartun Sur and his cultists from Nights complement the element of weirdness witnessed in City of Ruin. For the first one, he brings to the table a good opportunity for the author to tackle religion and creation. As for Dartun, his actions are seen through the eyes of her lover which is great since too much would probably have been revealed about his agenda if he had been the PoV. However, knowing what we know from the story so far, his motivations seemed thin. A double edged sword...
The conflicts in Villjamur itself give us a glimpse at some new territory of the city that makes her even more intriguing. The city is not a character in itself but there's something with the setting bringing her to life. In the first novel, I was already charmed even though I felt that it was a bit pushed down our throats by the protagonists. This time it's more subtle. It felt good to be back but with the plot taking such a big leap, that particular ambiance will never be the same.
In the end, The Book of Transformation is not an improvement from the level of its predecessor but it's still a satisfying and captivating novel, just slightly lacking in creative expression versus City of Ruin. The themes approached are explored somewhat in a black and white manner, seen from both side of the coin with to a certain degree some twisted notions of each, while the prequels felt 'greyish'. Still, I'm really eager to re-join the characters missing from this book and read about the great conflagration of worlds, ideas and people that is to come.
Technically, the Tor UK cover art starring Villjamur is looking good. Thankfully, Lan was removed from the cover (look here). The hardcover edition of the novel is 417 pages and features the map of the Western end of the Boreal Archipelago. Nice!
The Book of Transformation's review score :
Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 8 / 10
Story.............................. 7.5 / 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10
Overall (not an average) 8 / 10
Mark Charan Newton page
Nights of Villjamur review
City of Ruin review