Friday, 17 April 2009

‘Nights of Villjamur’ – Mark Charan Newton (Tor UK)


I interviewed Mark Charan Newton around about this time last year and one of the things that he told me was that he was working on was a book called ‘Nights of Villjamur’. Having very much enjoyed ‘The Reef’ the first thing I did was to settle and wait in anticipation for ‘Nights of Villjamur’ to arrive on the shelves.
An advance copy came through the post but before I had a chance to read it Aidan, Adam and James got there first and posted their reviews. I totally trust what they have to say and their praise for ‘Nights of Villjamur’ had me looking forward to reading it even more.
I finally got round to picking the book up last weekend and finished it last night in a fit of ‘I can’t stop reading, I really must find out how it all ends...’ It turns out that everyone was right and my anticipation of ‘Nights of Villjamur’ was well founded...

Villjamur is a bastion of civilisation standing against an impending ice age. It’s also a lot more, being a city full of stories as well as a city with its own story to tell. Banshees mourn the dead while cultists use forgotten technology in the middle of an ancient city of dreaming spires and bridges. The death of the emperor means that the Chancellor is free to advance his own aims, while Randur Estevu’s own aims are honourable in intent but base in their execution... How are the lives of these two men connected to an inquisitor’s investigation of a brutal murder? How are reports of the dead walking the tundra connected with reports of a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the empire? All the answers, and much more, will be found in Villjamur...

The world of Villjamur stands on the cusp of a gentle slide into oblivion and Newton makes this clear at the outset. The image of the world’s dying sun is prominent as is a sense of futility to everyone’s actions. The need to survive is there but it’s almost as if the book is asking what the point of it all is... This approach establishes the atmosphere of the book in the best way and gives you an indepth picture of the weight of millennia hanging over not only Villjamur but the world itself. It’s a bit of a double edged sword though as this futility can make ‘Nights of Villjamur’ a bit heavy going and really hard to get to grips with.

In interviews that I’ve read, Newton makes no apologies for the influence of authors like Mieville, Vance, Wolfe and Harrison on his work; particularly ‘Villjamur’. I’ve never read anything by Vance or Wolfe (and probably should, where should I start?) but could see the homage paid to both New Crobuzon and Viriconium in terms of the brooding cityscape (something that will stay with you long after you’ve finished) and the attitudes of it’s people. However, I was left wondering if Newton wears his influences a little too obviously. It’s a fine line to walk and the stories within Villjamur’s walls sway things in Newton’s favour.

The bottom line is that Newton writes an engaging tale full of different subplots that all come together to form a picture you’d only half guessed at while you were reading. ‘Nights of Villjamur’ has something for everyone and it’s all good. If you’re after a noir thriller then follow Inquisitor Jeryd down the mean streets as he attempts to solve a murder that has everyone baffled. If you’re after something political then Villjamur is full of competing factions that are all out for power and will stop at nothing to get it. If all you want is a bit of honest thievery and the sound of swords clashing in anger then there is plenty of that as well.

The events portrayed in ‘Nights of Villjamur’ are guaranteed page turners and the characters involved are just as engaging. Newton takes his time going into what it must be like living in a world approaching its end and how this can affect people’s decisions. Some characters stick to what they know whether that’s the upholding of the law or following their own base desires. In a dying world where change can be seen as pointless some characters do develop and these journeys are the ones that are worth following. There is enough going on in these pages to make reading the sequel pretty much essential as far as I’m concerned.

‘Nights of Villjamur’ has it’s (small) faults but remains a book that fantasy fans will enjoy if my reaction is anything to go by. I’ve only just finished it and I’m already waiting to see what happens next...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Read my Interview with Mark and my review of The Reef.

Then have a look at Adam's Review of 'Nights of Villjamur'.

Have a look at James' Review as well as a Guest Post from Mark.

Last, but not least, take a look at Aidan's interview with Mark and Review of 'Nights of Villjamur'...

9 comments:

Michael said...

You have to read Wolfe or I will send ninja assassins to you...and stop reading your blog...
You can start by The Book of the New Sun as it is his masterpiece, but its quite a tough read (well at least for me for whom English is not the native language). Or you can start with short stories (The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories is great) or with The Wizard Night which is an easier read but gives you a taste of the magnificence of this prose.

Thanks for the review, makes me want to add this book to my stack (at least 200 books high).

Mark C Newton said...

I know what happens next! :)

Thanks for the awesome review, Graeme.

TheDude said...

Michael beat me to the punch, but I'll second his opinion.

I can't recommend The Book of The New Sun hard enough. It's my favourite book,period. Wolfe is a master storyteller.It's demanding,but not difficult.

As for Vance, his Tales of the Dying Earth are his most popular work, but he also has a lot of other fun stuff like his Planet of Adventure series and The Demon Princes tetralogy.

ediFanoB said...

I read all interviews and reviews you mentioned. I also read the excerpt AND I'm totally convinced that I MUST buy and read NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR!! What else can I say......

To be honest I also didn't read a book by Wolfe so far. But after some researches I must confess that I apparently missed something. Yesterday I got the recommendation to read the Coldfire trilogy by Celia S. Friedman.
I think my problem is that I didn't read fantasy in the nineties.

Graeme Flory said...

ed - My problem is that I didn't read enough fantasy in the nineties ;o)

Michael and the Dude - Thanks for your comments guys, maybe it's time for me to give 'The Book of the New Sun' a go. Reading 'Nights of Villjamur' has also got me thinking about giving 'Viriconium' another try...

Mark - Care to give us any hints? :o)

Mark C Newton said...

Only that it gets weirder... a lot weirder!

simon_hyde said...

Hi Graeme,

Sounds right up my street does this...

With regards to Jack Vance Id recommend Lyonesse, its a fantastic book. Get reading!

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Mr Bacchus,

I'm glad that 'Nights of Villjmur' has been a source of inspiration to you and will be checking out your blog at some point in the future. If you want to leave a post here with a link to your review then that's cool.

One thing I'm not so keen on though is my blog being used as a dumping ground for 'cut and pasted' comments that have popped up in other places and don't really add to a discussion at all. It's only one step away from spam and I hate spam...

I've deleted similar comments before and that's why I've deleted your comment this time round. I'm always up for dicussion though so feel free to leave another comment with a link to your review and we'll got at it!

Rob Mammone said...

I bought this book on the strength of the reviews I'd seen for it on sites like this and others.

I'm now glad I bought it second hand because to have spent more money on it would have made me even more angry with it.

Kudos to Mr Newton for getting it published - clearly someone at Tor saw something in it I can't see.

The writing is often drab, the characterisation thin and bland, the setting sketchy and lacking in any depth. None of the characters engaged me and while a 'dying earth' setting should be an evocative experience, NoV certainly wasn't (as far as I read).

You could argue it reads like a 1st novel, but there are plenty of fantasy authors out there (Gemmell, G Kay et al) who struck gold with their first books and never looked back.

A really disappointing book (admission - I'm stuck on page 80 and have decided that my time is too precious to waste on something I can't see improving).

I wish Mr Newton all the best with his writing in the future - unfortunately, I won't be buying any further books from him.