Mark Charan Newton – Nights of Villjamur

An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail, cultists use forgotten technology and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his heir, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself.

Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the savage murder of a city politician, and a serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda.

Then reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide, and members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. it seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow…

The world of Nights of Villjamur, lit by a dying sun, is intricate and has a long, long history. We enter this world at the dawning of a new ice age: everything is cold and mostly covered in snow. So the fact that I read it while we were having a lot of snow dumped on us, seems to be appropriate. If anything it helped me imagine how cold the characters must all be, tramping around the city through the snow and sleet. It certainly made me sympathetic to Jeryd every time he was being snowballed by the little street rats! But to be honest, Newton’s descriptions of the city didn’t need real world reinforcement. His atmospheric descriptions were vivid and showed off the true star of this book: Villjamur. The city is the heart of the novel, it is the backdrop for most of the book and has a character all its own.

The book consists of three main story arcs, which each seemingly pursue the answer to a mystery. Commander Brynd Lathraea needs to figure out what is causing the mass murder up North. Investigator Rumex Jeryd needs to solve the murder of a councillor. And Randur Esteva needs to find a way to give his mother eternal or at least prolonged life. I say seemingly, because it’s not that simple and straightforward. As the narrative unfolds, each question metamorphoses in to something bigger and somehow they are all interconnected. Each arc is resolved on its own, the characters never physically meet up, but they are referenced in each other’s stories. I really liked how everything fit together in the end, though I found the resolution of Randur and Eir’s plotline a bit easy, or rather not easy as much as effortless, I never doubted that they’d make it. It was fast in any case! Although I enjoyed all three story arcs, the book only gripped me once Jeryd made his appearance. He was by far my favourite character in the book.

So I loved the worldbuilding and Newton’s characters, but what really made the book stand out for me was the way Newton assumes his readers will keep up with him. He uses some difficult, lesser-known words (which had me wanting to go find a dictionary) without flinching. And he doesn’t explain himself; we find out through the narrative what garudas are, but Newton never comes right out and tells us about them, they’re just there. The same goes for the rumels, we learn they have thick skin, either grey, brown, black or red, they have tails and they’re long-lived. And that’s it, that is all Newton gives us. And I loved that. There were so many things that were different and strange, but they are simply part of the environment, they may be weird to the reader, but they’re normal to the characters in the book, so no extra attention is given to them. That kind of trust is rare and a pleasure to encounter.

If you’re looking for nice, traditional epic fantasy Nights of Villjamur is not for you. Because it is anything but nice and traditional. It is wonderful, imaginative and slightly weird. It’s a great debut from a promising author. And I can’t wait to get my hands on City of Ruin, the second instalment of the Legends of the Red Sun. And the third book isn’t far of either, The Book of Transformations is due out in June.