Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: A Magic of Nightfall by S.L. Farrell

A Magic of Nightfall (US, UK, Canada) is the second volume in the Nessantico Cycle trilogy by S.L. Farrell. Picking up twenty-five years after A Magic of Twilight (US, UK, Canada) it continues the story of Nessantico – city and heart of an empire in peril. This series embraces epic fantasy, utilizing rather than subverting clichés to tell a great story.

The empire of the Holdings is coming apart – Firenzcia has seceded from the Holdings, there is war across the sea with the Westlands, and even the Concénzia Faith has split with rival leaders declaring that they are the true Archigos. With a twenty-five year gap between volumes, A Magic of Nightfall feels different from A Magic of Twilight – more mature and darker. Some of the same point-of-view characters are followed, new characters are introduced and others are killed. Turmoil reigns over it all.

As with A Magic of Twilight, politics rule A Magic of Nightfall and set it apart from most of epic fantasy– very few attain the sophistication here that would have Machiavelli spinning on his (albeit dead) head. In the course of A Magic of Nightfall, 6 heads of state die – due to natural causes, assassination, combat, and even suicide. In all this countless shifting factions are in play – allying, betraying, conquering and dying. Through all this there really aren’t all that many true battles – the politics themselves more than suffice.

As with his previous effort, the characters, which really are at the center of the book, are generally realized rather well. Even when surrounded by seeming larger problems, there’s a human touch at work – mourning for a lost lover, the advent of new love, infidelity, guilt, rivalry, madness, and hope. Some are better realized than others and almost all character development seems to stop just short of how far it could have gone and others serve as a mere plot device to deliver an important event to the reader. Through it all, the characterization does its job – the reader cares to know what happens next.

As with
my review of A Magic of Twilight (at BookSpot Central), A Magic of Nightfall suffers from its use of what I’ll call jargon. Names, titles, places and other things are loaded down with apostrophes and other combinations that are somewhat confounding to the English-speaking tongue. In many ways I find this an enjoyable distinction, but there is no denying the negative effect it has on the pace of the book. While the glossary and appendices at the back of the book help, they can’t speed up the pace or ease of reading. Along these same lines, this book weighs in with a hefty 585 pages that actually seem longer than that.

In reading A Magic of Nightfall, the aims of Farrell become clearer for the Nessantico Cycle. This is the story of a city as much as anything – the first book is twilight, the second nightfall, and the third will be dawn. Another way of looking at this is that we are seeing the decline, death and rebirth of a great city. I find this an interesting approach that I’m mostly enjoying – but I do have some issues. The city of Nessantico, the central focus, doesn’t come alive enough – I’d love to see its personality take over, for it to be the binding character of it all. Instead, Nessantico really is just a setting, with the focus on the people. Now I do enjoy the focus on the people, but the connection of these people to Nessantico isn’t strong enough to bring it all together and to match Farrell’s vision. I love the aim, but the execution comes off only about half-cocked.

As I hinted at above, Farrell doesn’t really do anything new with this book – it’s not what I’d call ‘gritty’ and I can’t say that it aims to subvert the genre in any way, it simply utilizes an epic fantasy setting to tell a story. They key is that it’s a good story and that it’s well told. Farrell’s work seems to get passed over too often and too easily because it doesn’t strive to be on the cutting edge of epic fantasy – do yourself a favor and don’t fall into that trap.

A Magic of Nightfall chronicles the events of Nessantico’s decline through its people and politics. The middle book of the three-book Nessantico Cycle, it is a self-contained story-arc in a series that will conclude with the forthcoming A Magic of Dawn. I highly recommend this series to fans of epic fantasy – particularly fans looking for strong political workings. 7/10

Related Posts:
S.L. Farrell Interview
Point of Interest: My review of A Magic of Twilight at BookSpot Central (FantasyBook Spot) was blurbed by Daw for A Magic of Nightfall and the paperback printing (this is only the second time I’ve been blurbed that I’m aware of).


Jeff C said...

I'll have to read this one soon. While I liked book 1, I had trouble becoming attached to any particular character. Are any of the new characters in this one easier to root for?

Neth said...

I'm not really sure - but I think the answer is yes. The previous book mostly focused on a single character - it's spread a bit more evenly in this one.

ediFanoB said...

even I don't know the first book I was eager to read a review of the second volume of the trilogy.

After reading your good review I know I can buy the books - when they are available in paperback - without compunction.


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