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Nights of Villjamur
Mark Charan Newton
Narrated by Steven Crossley
Tantor Media, 17 hours

Nights of Villjamur
Mark Charan Newton
Mark Charan Newton was born in 1981, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. After working in bookselling, he moved into editorial positions at imprints covering film and media tie-in fiction, and later, science fiction and fantasy. He currently lives and works in Nottingham.

Mark Charan Newton Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ivy Reisner

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An ice age is coming to the archipelago empire of Jamul. Peasants are gathering, seeking sanctuary, but they are being kept out. Adherents to a forbidden religion are gathering power and seeking to take control of the empire. It is against, and driven by, this backdrop that this jigsaw puzzle of a story opens.

I don't use jigsaw puzzle in a bad way here. We first get scenes that are disconnected with characters that don't know each other and plot lines that, at first, don't cross. There is a strong sense in the beginning of looking out at scattered bits of an image and not knowing how it all fits. Some of these bits include:

(1) A young man assigned to teach the princess swordsmanship and dancing. He's a charmer and he needs money to pay for medicine for his ailing mother; so he seduces ladies of the court and acts as part prostitute, part thief, to raise the needed funds.

(2) A soldier ambushed while gathering fire grain, a routine supply operation in what should not have been hostile territory.

(3) A prostitute whose paintings somehow come to life.

(4) A city guard, estranged from his wife, tormented by some street kids, and charged with solving the murder of a chancellor.

(5) The guard's assistant, turned down for promotion because of his race (he's human and humans don't live long enough to gain the wisdom needed for the top slots, or so the thinking goes), harboring unspoken resentment.

(6) A cultist, a sort of magic user, seeking the key to immortality.

All of these stories are compelling in themselves, and Mark Charan Newton handles the interplay between them brilliantly. It makes Nights of Villjamur a very hard book to put down. Over time, bit by bit, and with increasing speed, the pieces start to come together, and the stories link up, and all of those links are causal and driven by story elements. No coincidences here -- the structural complexity and elegance of the novel is remarkable. This isn't a light read -- there's a great deal of complexity to the world, to the political machinations, and to the characters. Nights of Villjamur is a book to be savored.

My only complaint is the narrator, Steven Crossley. He doesn't scan ahead to the end of the sentence, and so treats every clause as the terminal clause. It makes an already complex story even harder to understand. His handling of dialogue is impressive for the most part, though sometimes he forgets to deliver the lines in the character's voices, and his handling of narration is awkward.

I'd highly recommend reading, not listening to, this book while curled up with a steaming hot chocolate on a winter's evening. It's a powerful story, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, City of Ruin.

Copyright © 2011 Ivy Reisner

Ivy Reisner is a writer, an obsessive knitter, and a podcaster. Find her at IvyReisner.com.


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