Nights of Villjamur
Mark Charan Newton
Shrouded in snow and ice, and facing the threat of an endless winter, the city of Villjamur is–understandably–under a great deal of stress. Refugees stream from all over the Empire, the Emperor is mad and paranoid, councilors are being murdered, cultist tensions are rising, and Brynd’s elite troops are being slaughtered by…something unnameable. In the midst of all this, the Emperor’s young daughters struggle to hold their people together as they learn to navigate love and political manipulation on the eve of a cold, unfriendly new age.
Epic in scale, lovingly close in detail, Villjamur is a fully-realized, dirt-under-your-fingernails-real city in a grand, dying world.
A half-dozen characters race to beat the winter and the faceless enemies, their paths crossing here and there. Inquisition Investigator Rumex Jeryd chases a murderer and tries to rescue a guttering romance with his estranged wife Commander Brynd Lathrea harbors a deadly personal secret, yet must put that aside in pursuit of a plan to keep the nation alive. Randur Estevu adjusts to life in the big city, and to his growing affection for a woman well out of his reach. Above it all, the garudas patrol. All of them have their own trials and challenges, and Newton builds the tension notch by notch, pulling the reader in.
In my opinion, Newton cherry-picks from the strengths of multiple sub-genres: the scale and interweaving plots of politically-driven fantasy; the subtle horror of people on the edge of survival and hunted by unstoppable monsters both living and dead; the tortured characters and gritty reality of Heroic Adventure; even the attention to detail and suspense of a good noir piece. I could smell and see and feel Villjamur.
He also skillfully weaves elements in a style reminiscent of M. John Harrison. There’s much less of the Weird, Villjamur is very clearly grounded in a fantastic sort of reality, but the interplay of cultures and technology calls Harrison’s Viriconium to mind. The Cultist technology and remnants of ruins hint at a massive back-story.
Nights of Villjamur ends on a nasty cliff-hanger, and yet, it doesn’t feel like part of a series or trilogy. It is, in and of itself, coherent. There is a feeling of satisfaction at the end.
I highly recommend this book, and look forward to what Newton writes in the future. Keep an eye out for the sequel, City of Ruin.