Curiously nerdy posts.
Another week, another book! I’m finally getting a trace of free time to read.
This week, I read Nightwise, by R.S. Belcher.
To date, I’ve read all of R.S. Belcher’s novels. Granted, that’s not too hard to do when there’s only three of them. But regardless, I greatly enjoyed his weird west novels, The Six Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana. They were (and are) this intriguing blend of western and fantasy that were a pleasure to read, and boasted a cast full of creatively realized characters. So when he announced he was writing an urban fantasy novel, I was both intrigued and disappointed. Disappointed because I would’ve really liked to visit Golgotha again sooner, but intrigued because I was very much interested to see what he could do with a more contemporary setting, and a first person POV.
The blurb goes like this:
R.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series set in today’s seedy occult underworld in Nightwise.
In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It’s said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher’s Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he’s also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.
Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places―and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the Devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, D.C. to backwoods hollows and truckstops, while risking what’s left of his very soul . . . .
So, did this book live up to the standard I’d come to expect from Belcher? Well…
Laytham Ballard, the main character. As the blurb proudly suggests, Ballard isn’t a conventional hero. He’ll save people, but he won’t do it exactly when you might expect him to. He’ll do the right thing, but his motivation might be more of the “Because I wanted to see if I could get away with it” rather than the classic “Because the world won’t save itself” variety. As one of the villains astutely points out, Ballard is a predator in a world of sheep, a man who often uses his considerable arcane powers for his own selfish gains. He’s also full of bluster and big talk that he can only sometimes back up.
Yeah, he’s kind of a jerk, and sometimes not all that likable at all. But you know what? He was interesting. Interesting is more important than likable, at least in my book. He was an interesting companion to go on an adventure with, yet I wouldn’t have been upset if he hadn’t survived the events of the novel. It was an unusual, and sort of refreshing feeling.
The worldbuilding. This didn’t feel like a book one, and that’s totally because of the fantastic attention to detail when building the world. References to Laytham’s previous adventures, however infamous, are sprinkled through the story at places that make actual sense to reference them. For the most part, this is done by defining Laytham’s relationship with other characters. Some of them love him… more of them despise him. But either way, it creates a sense of continuity from nothing. George RR Martin does this to great effect out of necessity, but it’s used VERY nicely here on a story of a much smaller scale and scope. It’s very cleverly done, and one of the highlights of the book.
Add into that the myriad references to stuff like the Illuminati (who are justifiably one of the bigger, scarier shadow organizations in this story), Freemasons, demons, angels, gods from numerous religions, and there’s already a full palette of ideas to draw from for any sequels. One of the best segments of the story happens when Ballard is in a prison for those in “the Life”, as the book refers to people with magical talent. Heck, even the title of this book is only referenced in passing, and could easily make for a plot of its own.
Just good stuff, all around.
The grit. Most urban fantasy has a tendency to be a bit edgier on what happens in their stories. This book takes it one step further, and tells you exactly what it’s going to be like from the very first line:
The banker was crucified on the wall of his Wall Street office, fountain pens jammed through both wrists, an Armani Jesus.
If that sounds interesting, the book keeps that tone all the way throughout. If it sounds repulsive… well, this might not be the book for you. But it worked for me.
The climax. This entire book is basically Laytham searching for a man responsible for the death of his friend’s wife. It’s a long, twisting road, full of nasty secrets, and even nastier monsters. It’s well crafted, and with each caper searching for information on Slorzack getting more and more epic, it intrigues you that each time, Laytham learns exactly nothing of the man’s location. And toward the end, when he finally does find his man, there’s an entire chapter of exposition explaining how ingenious Slorzack’s hide and escape plan really is. And within the framework of the rules that book has set for itself, it is brilliant. A ton of thought went into it, and it unfolds beautifully.
The problem is what happens after that. I won’t go into detail, as to avoid spoilers, but… it’s anti-climactic. The actual battle is written well, the dialogue is interesting, but you’re left with a feeling of “That’s it? Really?” It was far from overwhelming, but well written enough to not be underwhelmed. But it just left me… whelmed. And that’s almost worse, in a way.
There’s only one POV. This isn’t a negative for a lot of authors. In fact, for many, it’s a positive. But when you’re an author that’s proven that you can make a ton of awesome characters and believably write POVs for all of them, being stuck with one character – however interesting he may be – just sort of feels like a letdown in comparison. It’s not a huge negative, but it’s just how I feel about it.
Nightwise is a good book, and definitely worth a read. It’s different from a lot of Urban Fantasy, in a good way (especially the main character). But the climax just didn’t work for me, and that hurts my own personal rating a bit. But if his previous work is any indicator, the sequel will improve in every way.
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