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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

SPFBO Finalist: Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

Order Nether Light over here USA / UK

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born in London in 1972, Shaun spent his formative years in the shadows of the dreaming spires of Oxford, before moving to Nottingham where he graduated with a degree in English and Media.

Shaun lives in Brighton, on the south coast of England, where he splits his time between fiction, geekdom, and garlic bread.

Find out more at shaunpaulstevens.com

CLASSIFICATION: Gaslamp Fantasy

FORMAT: Self-published by the author on May 27, 2020, Nether Light is available in ebook and paperback format through Amazon. The book is 660 pages long. Cover design by Flintlock Covers.

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I loved Nether Light’s opening chapter. It set the tone of the story and made me eager to continue. The more I read, though, the more my immersion became sinusoidal. Nether Light has both strong ups and strong downs.

The story follows Guyen, a refugee who needs to find his way in the land of his enemy. We learn about the world through his point of view, and his perspective feels tinged with anger and a touch of hatred. Despite this, Guyen is also naïve and ready to help, trust, and forgive. Not the best combination when you have to deal with political intrigue, mature and experienced foes, and the world in general.

Stevens delves deep into Guyen’s mind, allowing readers to observe and discover how his perspective and the image of the world change. While convincing and dramatic, it’s also a slow process that will hinder the reading experience of those who won’t click with Guyen right away. Unfortunately, I’m in this group. As a result, I had to force myself to read through parts of the book and I’m convinced a slimming treatment would strengthen it. 

Stevens’ writing throughout is vivid, with many noteworthy secondary characters, from Guyen’s close ones to Mist, an intriguing girl skilled with blades.

The world itself awed me with rich imagery and fascinating concepts (like almost limitless probability-based magic or the city’s dark and atmospheric setting). We discover it through the eyes of a young foreigner and he likes details. We get plenty of them. Probably too much. I would say the story really gets going around the 60-65% mark. Once you get there, you’ll probably start to turn the pages with growing interest. Before, though, a lot feels pointless. 

At 660 pages, Nether Light requires a level of trust from readers. I found the pacing uneven and discouraging, with exciting bits bogged down with details and Guyen’s brooding. Listen, Guyen, I get it, your life sucks and nothing’s as it seems but c’mon man, get a grip! And cheer up a bit. Not everyone wants to hurt you, and you can find friends in surprising places.

Readers who enjoy slow-burn and dark epic fantasies with a unique magic system and intriguing setting will find Steven’s novel engaging and rewarding. Readers who prefer focused narratives may find it disappointing. Personally, I loved parts of the story but felt bored by others. And, to be frank, I’m not sure if I would finish it if it weren’t an SPFBO finalist.

OFFICIAL SPFBO SCORE


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