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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

“Nights of Villjamur” by Mark Charan Newton (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Mark Charan Newton Website Order “Nights of VilljamurHERE Read An Excerpt HERE
INTRODUCTION:Nights of Villjamur” is the epic fantasy debut of Mark Charan Newton, who is also the author of the small press novel, “The Reef”. Having been in touch with Mark several times before, I had been aware of “Nights of Villjamur” for quite a while now, and the novel was one of my most anticipated fantasy releases of 2009. This of course was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I really wanted to like the novel and may have been unintentionally less than objective in the review because I’ve personally conversed with the author. But on the other hand, I’ve been easily disappointed by books with such high expectations. Fortunately, not only did “Nights of Villjamur” fully meet my expectaions, it exceeded them, being a novel that I plan on re-reading several times in the future... 

SETTING: Under the Red Sun, the long-awaited Freeze, which is expected to last for decades, is coming and the Jamur Empire is preparing... In the city of Villjamur, the corrupt ruling Council led by Chancellor Urtica wants to keep the population as low as possible, so tens of thousands of refugees from neighboring island-provinces are forced to starve in tents in front of the city walls. Mad Emperor Johynn Jamur is convinced that everyone is out to get him, so he finds solace in drink. 

Because of this, his heir and elder daughter Rika left Villjamur in disgust and fear taking refuge with a monastic order, while the younger, more naive and sheltered Eir is the only one keeping Johynn company. Brynd is the albino commander of the elite Night Guard, and hence of the whole Empire military, who finds himself on one too many supposedly safe missions that turn deadly. Jeryd is a rumel—a longer-lived hominid race coexisting with humanity that forms the higher ranks of the judiciary and the Inquisition of Villjamur. As a high ranking Investigator, Jeryd becomes in charge of a series of strange murders that may lead to dark deeds in positions of power. 

Dartun is a powerful magician—“cultist”—and godhi of the Order of the Equinox, the second most powerful magical order in Villjamur after the Order of Dawnir. Dartun believed himself to be immortal, but after discovering that he can die, he hatches a desperate plan to “regain” his immortality even if it threatens all of Villjamur and the world. Opposing Dartun is Papus, the leader of the Dawnir order. Jurro is a Dawnir—the only known member of the ancient, all powerful and very long-lived race that is credited in legends with amazing magic and technology. However “he” was found wandering around without any memory many centuries ago, and since then has become sort of an official archivist, Palace librarian and historical researcher of the city. Randur is a handsome islander from Folke, master of the arts of dance, sword and seduction. Though not really his name, he uses the opportunity left behind by the real Randur to come to Villjamur where he secures a job in the Palace as Eir’s sword and dance teacher. 

Eventually his path crosses Dartun, and Randur is forced to come up with an immense sum of money in order to receive the cultist’s aid. Tuya is an artist with a distinctive mark on her face and she practices the second oldest trade for a living, though she has some other interesting talents a well. Tryst is Jeryd’s human aide. Though usually loyal, Tryst has grown disgruntled by being passed over for promotion in the Inquisition because he is a ‘human’, and decides to teach Jeryd a lesson. Finally, *** is the Magus of the underground Ovinist order which is spreading its tentacles through Villjamur and has particular ideas about how the Empire should survive in the Ice Age to come... 

FORMAT/INFO:Nights of Villjamur” stands at 461 pages divided over forty-six numbered chapters and includes a prologue that occurrs about fifteen years earlier which introduces several main characters. Narration is in the third person via multiple POV's, most importantly Brynd, Jeryd, Dartun and Randur, with significant chunks dedicated to Eir, Papus, Tryst, Tuya and several others. The novel splits into four main threads which are clearly connected and will most likely converge in future installments of The Legends of the Red Sun. Each thread comes to a natural stopping point with no major cliffhangers, but there is a big To Be Continued sign. 

June 5, 2009 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “Nights of Villjamur” via Tor UK. Cover art provided by Benjamin Carre

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Nights of Villjamur” opens with a prologue on the island/province of Folke that introduces us to younger versions of Papus, Randur and Brynd. Kapp, which is Randur's real name, is an inquisitive ten-year-old boy; Papus is an up-and-coming Dawnir cultist that carries a very important ‘relic’ and is being pursued by a relentless enemy; and Brynd is a captain in the army, commanding an Imperial force and tasked with “restoring order” on a neighbouring island. 

The novel proper starts when we are introduced to the city of Villjamur: “Garudas swooped by, engaged in city patrols, whilst cats looked up from walls in response to their fast-moving shadows.” From here, Villjamur is revealed to us in all of its splendor and decadence as we follow Randur making his way through the city as a wide-eyed newcomer and meet Tuya at an upscale bar. We also get to meet some of the city’s more striking occupants like the Banshees that announce death, the Garudas that patrol the skies, and the dog-like black Gheels that come to feast on blood and corpses. 

For the first fifty pages or so, the narrative shifts quite a lot as we encounter Brynd on a mission, Jeryd at the start of an Investigation, and the Palace denizens in Johynn, Urtica, and Eir, as well as the cultist leaders Papus and Dartun, but the beautiful prose, inventiveness and lyrical description help us navigate this part of the book with ease and become familiar with Villjamur and the novel’s main characters. Once I fully got into the flow of the novel, “Nights of Villjamur” was a book that I couldn’t help but savor, lingering on several memorable passages, although there are various points when the action heats up so much, that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. 

The novel re-reads extraordinarily well too since knowing what happens and having a better grip of the setting actually adds to the enjoyment. My only complaint with the book is that I now have to wait a while for the next installment :) In the end, even though it’s early yet, Mark Charan Newton’sNights of Villjamur” has established itself in my mind as a contender for Best Fantasy Novel of 2009. Highly, highly recommended...


ediFanoB said...

Liviu, this is the 6th review of Nights of Villjamur and it is a good one. And like the other reviewers you recommend the book.
ADribble of InkKing of the Nerds!!!Graeme's Fantasy Book ReviewSpeculative HorizonsThe WertzoneWhen you aren't convinced so far to buy and read the book then read The exclusive excerpt.

Anyway I can tell you after reading Liviu's review I couldn't withstand any longer and I did something new for me:
I sent a pre-order to !!!You must now I live in Germany and I normally don't buy Hardcover!
Now I look forward to 9th of June, the estimated delivery date. I know what I will do when I get the book in my hands....

Liviu said...

I hope you won't regret reading the book :)

I truly was apprehensive about this one - high expectations and all, but it delivered

It is not a fast read since it has lots of nuances and I reread parts as I was going on as well as a full re-read after finishing it and had some later discussion with Mark about the meaning of this or that name, or of this or that scene

This book was one of my top 3 most awaited books for say the "first part" of 09 (Jan/Sept) - I put that in writing on sffworld well before getting/reading it :)
and the next installment is another top awaited book though I have no idea about the timing

ediFanoB said...

Liviu, I don't mind to spend more time for one book as long as it is intriguing for me.
And to be honest all the reviews I read are from blogger whom I trust due to experience. Therefore I think I can't be disappointed.


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