Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Nights of Villjamur

I've been patiently waiting to read Nights of Villjamur since reading the high praises it has received from trusted review sources around the web.  When I finally got my hands on the book, it spent only a few short days on the shelf before I picked it up and dove in.

The world in which Nights of Villjamur takes place is slowly trudging towards an ice age underneath a cold red sun.  In the city of Villjamur, the capital of the Jamur empire, people are getting ready for the long cold winter ahead.  While the people of the empire prepare for the transition, the nobility is undergoing a transition of its own as it ushers in a new queen.

As you might guess, the ascension to the throne is no minor political event, and there are many players, big and small, pulling strings behind the scenes.  When some of the nobles start getting murdered, a twisted conspiracy involving magic, military might, religious cults and corruption lurches to the forefront.  Though the very structure of the empire is in peril, a greater, otherworldly threat is poised to wreak havoc on an already vulnerable Jamur Empire.

I had great expectations for this novel.  The reviews I'd read seemed promising, the back blurb seemed to hint that many elements I enjoy in a fantasy novel were present, and the world Newton created seemed like a great setting for an amazing story.  Despite all the positive energy this novel had built up before I turned the first page, I was ultimately disappointed by Nights of Villjamur.

My first piece of disappointment came from Newton's prose, which I had a hard time becoming fully immersed in.  The prose was a series of ups and downs.  At times it reached fairly lofty heights and I enjoyed the cadence and flow of events, but there were too many steep drops in quality that were jarring and cringe-worthy.  The varying quality of the writing, which often shifted from good to bad on the same page, prevented me from being able to just settle in and enjoy the novel.

An equally important and troublesome gripe is that I had a very hard time connecting to any of the important characters in the novel.  With the exception of Brynd, who I found somewhat likable and interesting, there was little substance to the other characters and as a result they fell completely flat.  There was little development spent on each character, and when there was, the character development felt more like superficial additives to simply create an interesting trait in a character. Yet this generally did little to define character's motivations or justify their actions.

As flat as the characters were, it should come as little surprise that various races that populate the novel were homogeneous as well.  Though Nights of Villjamur included a long lived reptilian race, birdlike men called garudas, and banshees, whose cries announce deaths, aside from what I just told you, there was little more to these groups of people.  There was very little to set them apart from the human race, and when a human character interacted with one of these other races, there were little to no dynamics that indicated differing cultures, social norms or the like.

Another frustration I had with the novel is that the magic system, in which relics from a bygone age are used to do magical things, made absolutely no sense, and no explanation for how it all worked was offered.  The system was so poorly enacted that I got the sense Newton himself had little to no idea how his magic system worked, and instead just chucked it in there to appease fantasy fans who just gotta have their magics.  Each time there was magic at play in this novel I felt frustrated and confused as to how it worked.

With such major complications in terms of prose, character development, diversity among races, and a completely un-fleshed out magic system, it was hard to find the positives in Nights of Villjamur.  Though hard to see through the other problems, there is quality to be found.

I was most impressed with was the complexity of the plot.  Simply put, there is a lot of shit going on in this novel, and the basis of it all is quite interesting.  Yes, my aforementioned problems with the book all did their part to take away from my enjoyment of the plot, but there is no denying that Newton is capable of putting together an interesting story.  This fact is no small thing because it should be noted that Nights of Villjamur is Newton's debut novel, and the problems I had are all things which can be improved on over time. However, if you can't write something interesting, well, as a writer you are pretty much out of luck.  Happily, Newton does possess a strong ability to write an interesting story, so if he can improve upon his prose, and character development, while putting in the time to flesh out various races, and his magic system, the man could write a fantastic fantasy novel.    

I had far too many serious problems with this novel to give it a recommendation.  The weaknesses far overshadowed the strengths and I had a very hard time enjoying this novel.  I'm unwilling, nor do I think it is fair, to write off Newton as an author whose works I would avoid.  I think he is quite capable of improvement, and his extremely creative imagination, which I'm pleased to say leans towards the weird end of things, could put together a fantastic novel in the near future.  Nights of Villjamur however, fell far short of greatness,  I would advise staying away from this particular novel.

Grade: D


Seak (Bryce L.) said...

Wow, did not expect this. I thought I was the only one who wasn't a fan. I quit about a quarter through.

Ryan said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who disliked the book.

I surprised myself by sticking with this the whole way through, even though by the half-way point I was frustrated with it.

Niall Alexander said...

I don't actually disagree with any of the criticisms you make, Ryan, but I was perhaps a bit more generous when considering them in totality.

I will say that City of Ruin is basically Nights of Villjamur but better, addressing a lot of the issues that there absolutely were with Mark's first novel. So that's... well. Neither here nor there, particularly, but still. The fella has honed his craft some since.

Ryan said...

Niall, that's good to hear.

I certainly think Newton has promise as a writer and I think he's definitely capable of great things in the future.