This is the epic fantasy debut novel of Mark Newton and boy does he take us to the darkest depths of humanity and the struggle for survival. Published in 2009, it sets the stage for a literal bone chilling story in the gargantuan city of Villjamur. Under the Red Sun, the long-awaited Freeze is coming and presumed to last for some decades at least and the Villjamur archipelago Empire is preparing. The Council leader Chancellor Urtica wants to keep the population as low as possible so tens of thousands of refugees starve in tent cities outside the city walls. We follow several characters through Villjamur and its ominous secrets.
Jeryd is a rumel – a longer lived hominid race coexisting with humanity and forming the higher ranks of the judiciary and the Inquisition of Villjamur. He is tasked with investigating the murder of the council and what he discovers could change the city forever. Dartun is a powerful magician – “cultist” – godhi of the order of the Equinox. Dartun believed himself immortal, only to discover that death is waiting for him soon. He must devise a plan to maintain his immortality regardless of the cost both monetary and human. Randur is a handsome islander from Folke, master of the arts of dance, sword and seduction. He enters the city of Villjamur with a job at the palace to train the emperors daughter, but he secretly trying to find a way to save the life of his dying mother. When his path crosses Dartun’s, he needs an immense sum of money since Dartun knows how to resurrect the dead and prolong life. Randur will go to any lengths to get the money and save his mother.
There are Garudas – bird-soldiers that guard Villjamur from the air, reanimated corpses, magic of various kinds, and of course the City itself. At times you feel like Villjamur is alive and the secrets it holds not only of its construction but hidden chambers with secret societies made this book a real page turner. Mr. Newtons debut novel reminded me at times of reading Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Jumping into a city with nothing but weird creatures, events, magic, and religious cults was just the kind of novel I was looking for at the time.
I will be very honest and say that this story has had mixed feelings with readers over the years. The book can be a times a slow-burn while it seeks to build character and drive the mysteries of the plot forward. I can’t say that Nights of Villjamur offers anything new to the fantasy genre but it is well written and the pacing of the book flows seamlessly through the chapters. Writing a story that takes place primarily in one location can be a risk but the rewards after you reach the end will have you looking to grab book 2 right away. This is a four book series and I can’t wait to see what this world has in store!