Reading Nights of Villjamur is like standing too close to a tapestry. At first, all you can see are threads, bits of story that you know are important, but you can’t make sense of in the overall context of the book. The more you read, the farther you step back from the tapestry, so that this thread connects with that one, and you begin to realize just how all of these wildly different characters are linked within the greater story.
The Jamur Empire is in peril, thanks to both an impending ice age as well as corruption from within, and all of the main characters have some stake in protecting the walled city of Villjamur. It took quite a while for the story to come together, but I appreciate that. Newton drops you into this world, with a dying red sun and encroaching ice, and leaves you to put the pieces together as he jumps between characters, slowly but steadily linking the pieces–deadly attacks on the empire’s elite warriors, an island boy with a stolen identity, the gruesome murders of Council members, an investigator and his untrustworthy assistant, a mysterious prostitute, the two daughters of a mad emperor, cultists with dangerous ambitions–until near the end of the novel, you suddenly realize the depth of the dangerous plots that threaten Villjamur.
Since the plot isn’t obvious from the beginning, the reader has to get to know the characters and rely on their reactions to get an idea of what’s going on. Brynd Lathraea, the albino leader of the Jamur Empire’s military, is the strongest character. Though he has risen to the highest military position, he still considers himself an outsider because of his albinism as well as his deepest secret: his homosexuality. I think Newton does a fine job portraying Brynd’s sexuality as just another part of the character, not as a shocking reveal or even anything essential to the story. It’s just a part of who Brynd is, another aspect of his character, along with his sense of duty, his honor, and his devotion to his soldiers.
The rest of the cast are also well-written and complex characters. They all have concerns outside of the immediate plot–Investigator Jeryd’s marriage, Randur Estevu’s sense of familial guilt–which make them realistic and sympathetic. I was very pleased to find myself jumping back and forth in my feelings toward Dartun SÃºr, the dark cultist; I love having my perception of a character constantly challenged.
My only complaint about Nights of Villjamur is that the ending felt rather rushed. There were a couple of plotlines that needed to be resolved before the book ended, and while I’m pretty satisfied with those plotlines, I did feel like I was running headlong to them. It didn’t quite fit the deliberate pace of the rest of the book, and while I wasn’t dissatisfied with the way it ended, it was a bit jarring.
If you’re the kind of reader who wants firm resolution at the end of a book, you’re going to be frustrated by the end of Nights of Villjamur. It is the first book in a series, and so I expected a cliffhanger. When I hit the end, though, I felt like I did when I got to the end of Fellowship of the Ring: like I’d just read part of a much longer book that had been cut off abruptly. By the end of the Nights of Villjamur, you’ve stepped back enough to see the whole tapestry, but you can also see that it stretches off to the right, and you’re going to have to walk along it to see the whole picture. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of Newton’s intricate tapestry of a series.
This review was previously published at SFRevu in September of 2010.