Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

(2010-11-02)

Mark Charan Newton (http://markcnewton.com/)
Legends of the Red Sun, Volume 1
BantamSpectra July 2010
ISBN 978-0345520845

The world is at the nadir of civilization and on the brink of an impending winter, order is crumbling with chaos knocking on the door of the castle. Set against this backdrop is what seems to be a murder mystery and the ascension of a new ruler. Thus you have the beginnings of Mark Charan Newton’s Nights of Villjamur, a novel that arrived in the States with a great deal of pomp based on very high praise from outside the States when it was publisher a year ago.

The world in which Newton has set his novel could very well be our own, perhaps an age or two before the Dying Earth made so famous by Jack Vance.  Specifically, the focal region of this world is an archipelago empire whose emperor is going insane. The empire is awaiting his heir whilst, fearing the empire’s lack of stability and the threat of a dooming ice age, a stranger is investigating a seemingly set of connected murders.  Stolen identities and political machinates comprise a majority of the drive behind the character’s actions, though there are battles and action scenes to counter-balance.

Pinning down a main character outside the city of Villjamur itself would be difficult in this large cast of characters. It could be Brynd Lathraea, a commander in the army of the empire who must keep the peace and status quo when the Emperor Johynn takes his own life. Coming to assume the role of Empress is Johynn’s niece Jamur Rika to rule. Complicating the situation is Rika’s sister, Eir, and her developing relationship with her appointed sword-master, the man who goes by the name of Randur Estevu. Jeryd, the rumel (a humanoid race with a tail that has inhabited the world for at least as long as humans) is the investigator who is tasked with finding the person responsible for a string of political deaths. Perhaps the most intriguing character is Jurro, the sole member of the Dawnir race how posses vast knowledge of both magic and technology.  The plot is further thickened when refugees from the Empire’s outlying regions arrive in Villjamur hoping to receive protection from the much-feared and predicted cataclysmic ice age. Clearly, much chaos is in the air of Villjamur.

Throughout the majority of the story, Newton straddles the line between genre tropes – from the murder mystery, to the sense of magic and non-human creatures, to lost technology, to royal families – it is pretty clear Newton had fun making this tasty stew of a novel. Like Vance and Wolfe before him, Newton uses the far future setting to great effect, blurring the lines between science and magic so much that they could be one and the same. The strange non-human creatures, which include garudas, winged birdmen who act as sentries for Villjamur; the aforementioned rumels, which seem to be a lizard-like people; and the Dawnir, seemingly godlike in their possession of all technological and arcane knowledge, serve to further give the story a sense of weird, fantastical otherworldliness.

The ending, which was rather sudden, came shortly after an odd ‘interview’ in one of the last chapters.  I found Newton’s prose to be enjoyable to read, but not completely connected to the characters themselves.  The backdrop of this world is fascinating and provides much of the novel’s magic. My only minor complaint is that too much seems to be occurring at the same time throughout the novel.   Perhaps the fault is with me as a reader since my reading chunks were parsed into smaller batches rather than a few large batches.  That being said, I do look forward to revisiting the novel in the future and finding out where Charan is taking his story next.  

© 2010 Rob H. Bedford

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