This review has taken me a while, but I really wanted to stew over the book for a couple of days before getting this posted. Why? Well, let’s hope I can explain.
I’ve been excited about this book for a while now, to say the least. Ever since Jon Jarrold contacted me and I saw this title, and through meeting (and then re-meeting ) Mark on Wonderlands, this book has been on my read-before-anything-list. So, when I got it and still had a couple of months to kill before reaching the right time, date-wise, to post the review, I got caught up on a few other books on the pile.
Getting started on Nights of Villjamur was awesome. I had already read the first chapter a while back (thanks again, Mark) and the prologue, combined with the first chapter, knocked me upside the head and made sure I knew I was getting into something new and exciting! What caught my attention first was the imagery that Mark’s words conjured – not to say that nothing else worked (please don’t misunderstand me), but Mark’s words are incredible and creating vistas and characters in your mind. You see the scenery, almost as an afterimage, while reading, see the colours, feel the sea spray dusting your face. It’s like as soon as you sit down and start reading a trapdoor opens beneath you and you tumble into the world.
The res of the book, from Chapter 2 onwards, reinforced and built upon this as we got to meet the characters who would be taking us through the tale and, of course, the city in which much of the tale would take place. Now, I’m not going to give you a blurb of the book here – one can readily be found on many sites – but I am going to say that Villjamur, the city itself, is an incredible location! I don’t know if Mark has architectural plans and maps of the city – methinks he must have – but it actually seems as if the city exists, somewhere under a red sun, and that he’s traveled through some strange doorway to walk its streets and alleyways. Much SFF these days focuses on characters, events, and the history behind these aspects of storytelling, but what Mark has done has used these to awesome effect in creating a city that lives and breathes, too. You may feel a bit like an out-of-depth tourist, trying not to gawk and explore every street and alleyway, and you may just find yourself thinking, as I did (and I know it’s not possible, but we have a wonderful thing called imagination) that Mark was there, feel in love with Villjamur’s darkness, and returned to tell us about it. Does the city overwhelm the characters? I mean, does it seem as if Mark concentrated more on making Villjamur the city it is instead of characters? Nope. The balance between the two seems perfect, but in my opinion, this is only because Mark is such a good writer and storyteller – kudos to John Jarrold for bring this man into our world! Prepare to have Mark around for a long, long time, folks!
Now, on to the characters and characterization. With one chracter in particular, Mark goes into (as far as I know) unread territory – this character is one of the important POVs in the story, and I was a bit shocked that Mark had taken this particular journey with this character. But not only does Mark make this character likable and real, not only to we sympathize and care about this character, but we also do not judge him (something that happens all too often with those who share something very important with the character). We are taken into taboo (and I say ‘taboo’ because many still see it as such) territory, a huge chance on Mark’s part, and it works, not only for the character and the story, but for all the genres making up SFF; Mark has loudly and clearly said, “You see? Stop being so afraid. We write about life and this has to stop being ignored and belittled and glossed over. Use it!” His feelings on the matter are probably different, but it’s what I would say to Mark, and I’m pretty sure he would agree. One problem I did have, character-wise, was that one of the characters slipped a bit too much into a stereotype for my liking; afterward, I really struggled to take him seriously, especially considering the position of power he is in at the story’s close.
The other characters, especially one cool non-human character, are all written well and allowed free reign – they develop as anyone probably develops in someone else’s eyes; you meet the person and form your ideas (and judgements), and subsequent meetings surprise you and interest you.
On to the action (for a novel in SFF must have some action), Mark doesn’t pull any punches – it’s gory, viceral, and in your personal bubble. Wince along, readers, wince along. A Problem I did have, though, was the fact that faces seemed the obvious targets – that did get a bit repetitive after a few pages.
The world of which Villjamur is a part of is amazing, too; scenery like you can’t believe (well, you can, but its spectacular), and Mark also doesn’t overwhelm us with info and world-details – there are still many mysteries awaiting us, and I like that. I want the world to live on, much of it still undiscovered and unknown, long after I put the book down, and Mark has made me very happy on that, and many other, counts.
All in all, this is a solid, imagination-holding debut. Mark has crafted a layered, memorable tale that confirms his entry into the SFF world with a bang! Other writers looking to break into the field (myself included) can do much worse than read, enjoy, and then study Mark’s work. Sure to be one of the top debuts of 2009!
To get more info on Mark and his work, check out his website here; to order your copies of Nights of Villjamur, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog.