Review: Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (UK Tor)


Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Published by Tor UK and Unoffiically Out Now

There are novels that are hyped a long time before they come out. Now this is a dangerous practice because it raises the expectation that said author is going to be the best thing since sliced bread, only for the reader to find out they are just the same as any other sliced bread on the shelves, or worse they taste not better than a value or basic loaf. Now being as tasty as other products on the shelves isn’t a bad thing and being thought of a quality product is no bad thing either. The only trouble about being told that something is tasty is that you can only be sure after you’ve tried it. So now that I’ve had a bite or two of Nights of Villjamur how does Mark Charan Newton taste?

You’ll be happy to hear that Newton has created a quality product and it all comes down to the mix of ingredients he’s chosen to use. Ok, I’ll stop with the metaphor but it make sense when you know that Nights is a mix of fantasy, science fiction, dying earth, mystery, crime, politics, coming of age, and genocide to name a few things he’s brought together in a book that’s under 500 pages.

Being the first part of something is always a hard job. You have to have a tale that lasts for a number books for a start, you also have to create characters that people want to succeed or at least are willing to follow and who have the potential for development. Then you have to give the reader a reason to read the next one. So why should you read Nights of Villjamur?

An ice age is coming to the group islands that has the fortress city of Villjamur at its heart. It’s a place where that’s seen as a sanctuary to the thousands that are camped outsides it gates. It’s a place where cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and factions have been formed over it’s use or should that be misuse? It’s a place where politics is everything.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his eldest daughter, Rika is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire but if she doesn’t die from an ambush on the road back, the Chancellor and head of the Council has plans to get rid of her and take the throne for himself.

At the same time there is someone is murdering members of the council leading to a senior investigator looking too closely into the Council, a new member of the Court is showing the Emperor’s daughter the darker-side of Villjamur, a cultist who thought he was immortal is starting to show more than one sign of imminent morality, the head of the Army keeps getting ambushed…

As with most stories it’s the twists and turns that make you want to keep reading and the fact the Newton uses more than one character to tell his story makes things vibrant as he moves in modern-movie-style segments from one scene to the next never labouring the point too long.

Only once or twice  does he seem to hit a strange note in a scene. He’s made the characters seem so at home with the world around them and their interactions with each other that the reader gets a strong sense of how they think and feel and a couple of times it’s not so smooth as I’d have liked but that’s a minor criticism. It’s a fine balance.

So can’t say it’s perfect and I wouldn’t want to. He’s only two novels into his career (this is his debut with a mainstream publisher) and you can tell that Newton is going to stand out. He’s mindful that he needs to create texture and colour to his characters  and give them a reason for moving on the page. He’s also put thought into the environment they inhabit. And he knows the journey he needs to take his characters. All qualities that can only grow with experience and further novels.

It become clear towards the end that, like Newton , the story has more to give.  He’s held his cards close to his chest as the game and the challenges have only just begun.

A wonderfully thoughtful read from a strong writer who has the potential to become an even stronger voice in the future. I’m left excited by the doorways that Newton has placed and I’m only sad that it’s going to take so long before I can step through the next one.

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