A Hard Day’s Knight

This review contains spoilers for the series, but not really for this particular book.

The eleventh, and apparently, penultimate Nightside book, A Hard Day’s Knight finally sees a return to form for both Simon R. Green and John Taylor.

One of my complaints about the last two Nightside books, is that Simon R. Green insisted on describing Nightside locations over and over again, that we’d already seen a hundred times.  I felt that John Taylor needed to get out of the Nightside for a time, for both his benefit and ours as readers.  In A Hard Day’s Knight, he does just that, visiting London Proper and alternate realities and worlds, and it absolutely gives us a breath of fresh air.

Excalibur has come to the Nightside, John Taylor isn’t worthy but for now, he’s wielding the Sword that isn’t a Sword and Never Was and woe betide anyone who gets in his way.  The inhabitants of Sinister Albion want the sword and the death of everyone in the Nightside, the Elves are edging closer to a civil war that threatens all of life on our Earth, and John Taylor is Walker (it’s a job title you see, not a name).  The book sets off with a reasonably relentless pace and a sense of humour we’ve not really had for some time.  We pick up the story exactly where book 10 left off, and Simon gives us a brilliant domestic scene with John and Suzie that really shows how far they’ve come.

The characters are all interesting, London Proper is good, the London Knights are engaging and we meet a few old friends along the way.  Sinister Albion is terrible and cruel and inhumane, and provides a grim backdrop to more development for John and Suzie’s relationship.  Nothing is wasted, nothing feels like padding.  There are still some minor continuity issues that are hangovers from the last two books (how exactly does John come to have Walker’s watch, baring in mind how Walker died), but they are truly dwarfed by the action, the prose and the dialog.

I was moved emotionally several times throughout the story and at times I felt that there was genuine peril.  It’s clearly too far gone in the series to kill John, but perhaps you never know, and I did wonder if Green would rip out his heart by killing off Suzie.

It’s pulpy, lightweight stuff, no more or less than you would expect from the previous good Nightside books, but it’s well written, well paced and it delivers at all the right moments.  This is the book I had been waiting for.  John is finally himself, powerful and angry, but with a sense of honour and his love for Suzie is clear.  I feel the loss of Walker as a reader, but John fills up that space as well.  The Nightside is a minor character, not taking over the story as in previous books.  The other supporting characters aren’t exactly deep, but they are interesting, dialog is good, and we see lots of old threads coming back into focus, which is always something I enjoy.

If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous series, you should definitely pick this up.  After all, who can resist King Arthur, Excalibur, Golden Elves and an Evil so sinister it doesn’t need to wear any clothes.  A Hard Day’s Knight finally delivers the kind of Nightside story the material and Green are capable of.  It’s heroic, noble, despicable, detestable, kind, funny and cruel in spades.  John Taylor wades through fields of mud and blood to fight an evil that deserves no less than death, looking for a sword he is not worthy to wield so that he can ultimately save the Nightside.  That’s a little like how it felt reading books 9 and 10 to be honest.  But we both made it, and here we are, near the end of all things, enriched and better for the experience.  The pay-off was worth it.

I’m looking forward to the final instalment, hopeful that we get the Green that wrote A Hard Day’s Knight, and not the guy who put out Just Another Judgement Day and The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny.

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Simon R. Green
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny

John Taylor is back in the 10th Nightside novel.  I really, really wanted it to be good.  I struggled in some ways with Just Another Judgement Day, and this time I wanted Green to write his way out of the corner he seems to have got himself stuck in.

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny follows the same format as the last book.  We start out with a little mini side adventure, with John Taylor escorting an Elf (of all things) across the Nightside with a trusty companion and plenty of examples of how powerful, ruthless and deadly he is.  There’s no tension, it’s clearly a side story, giving us a little bit of background and setting the ground work for some later stuff.  Sadly, it’s also tiresome.  Green just can’t get past telling and retelling the same things about the same Nightside locations over and over again.

Each time Taylor goes somewhere, new or old, we are given a long list of the weird, wonderful and sinful things that happen there; the crazy, dangerous and sad people who reside there.  Every time it’s a freak’s menagerie of terrible beings, and it’s boring.  If you’ve read the previous nine books you don’t need to hear it again, and if you’ve not, then none of this book will make sense anyway.  I don’t need to be reminded what the Street of the Gods is like, nor do I need yet another description of the reason why the Church of St. Jude is the place to go for Truth.  We’ve seen and read about taxi’s having to eat their way off the roads before.  It’s not new, and it just gets in the way of the actual tale.

Once the side story is out of the way, we get into the story proper, Larry Oblivion is looking for his little brother Tommy and he wants John to help.  This sounded promising, and I thought we might be getting somewhere, but then we get an entire chapter from the point of view of Larry, telling a story that yes, is probably important, but is just not interesting.  I don’t read these books to listen to Larry telling a story, I read the books to hear about John Taylor.  Anyway.  Must stay clam.

We then go on the standard goose chase, and there’s Walker, Some New Mighty Being (Larry’s older brother), The Collector, and some other old favourites.  And every time John goes some place, we are given another adjective rich description of it and the people inhabiting it.

Through all of this there are whispers and hints that Excalibur is coming to the Nightside, and the Big Reveal at the end of the last book is followed up on in this one (which I won’t reveal any more detail of, since it’s a significant spoiler).

Eventually, the story is resolved, the Big Reveal is tidied up, and John gets something in the post.

The last 20 or 30 pages for me, are the only reason to read the whole book.  I can’t reveal too much because it will spoil the little enjoyment you might get from reading, but even then, to me, it was pretty obvious what was going on and John should have seen it coming.

So, no character development here, and in combination with the last book, a tiny amount of overall progression in the grand story.  I think Green’s editor should have had serious words and condensed books 9 and 10 into a single short story.

Should you read it?  Your call, I’m going to read book 11 for two reasons, the Big Reveal makes it worth it and because I already own it.

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny is predictable, repetitive and ultimately disappointing.  Which is a great shame, because Green is capable of so much more, and the Nightside and the characters in it deserve a better story.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Simon R. Green
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Just Another Judgement Day

This is the ninth Nightside story from Simon R. Green, and if you don’t know what to expect by this point then you’ve had your eyes closed throughout the previous books.  This is not a book for someone who’s never read any of the previous Nightside novels – you absolutely need to read them all first, otherwise much of this one will go over your head.

Simon has built a canon of characters in the Nightside and uses them in this story like a well played set of cards, moving them in and out of scenes as required.  The Nightside itself and the locations within it are almost characters in their own right, and as the story moves from place to place it feels a little like going back home after a long time away.

This time, the Walking Man has come to the Nightside, to clean it up, kill the sinners and do God’s work.  John Taylor finds himself up against impossible odds, making impossible choices and doing his usual self reflection.  The pace is solid, with a short reminder about how deadly John and Suzie are in the opening chapter, followed by a single relentless methodical slog to the end.  The prose is typical of Simon’s work, forming clear images of the world, bringing humour and originality, and additionally in this story, giving us a real sense of the dreadful nature of the Nightside’s darkest corners.

As with Butcher’s Dresden books and Carey’s Felix Castor series, there are several threads running through all the Nightside stories.  The nature of the Nightside itself, the Terrible Future that John has seen, the role of Walker in John’s life and the protection of the Nightside, and the hint of other forces moving and driving towards some kind of goal.  There is also the relationship between John and Suzie Shooter.  Just Another Judgement Day does manage to drive some of those threads forward, and two of those threads give us the most engaging and moving parts of the book.

However, the main plot line and the overall delivery seem lazy.  There are a few sections with repeated phrases, some long descriptions of characters we’ve already met (taking up three or four pages at a time, several times, in a story which is only 263 pages long), and there’s no real urgency or sense of danger.

Perhaps Simon has written himself into a corner, the threats that Taylor has vanquished in previous books are so monumental, that it’s hard to imagine what kind of impending doom would get his heart racing.  If John isn’t scared, and we certainly don’t get any sense of that in this story, then why should we be?

The final confrontation is oddly muted, and what could have been an extremely powerful scene turned into almost a caricature.

Despite those flaws, Green’s writing makes it easy to read, and results in a harmless few hours of entertainment.  One for the fans, almost like a short postcard about what John is up to in between Major Events, and could have benefited from being half as long and more tightly focussed.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Simon R. Green
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Books I can’t wait for in 2011

There are so many books in already established series’ I am looking forwards to reading this year, not to mention new ones I have yet to discover.  Here is a selection that I really can’t wait to get my paws on :

Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

January

A Hard Day’s Knight (Nightside) by Simon R. Green (Ace Books)
Kitty goes to War (Kitty Norville) by Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)

March

River Marked (Mercy Thompson) by Patricia Briggs (Orbit)
Invincible (Chronicles of Nick 2) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (ATOM)
Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood) by J. R. Ward (Piatkus Books)

April

Ghost Story (Dresden Files 13) by Jim Butcher (Orbit)
Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Orbit)
Born of Shadows (League 4) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Piatkus Books)

June

Hunt the Moon (Cassie Palmer) by Karen Chance (Signet Books)
Deadline (Newsflesh Trilogy) by Mira Grant (Orbit)

July

Kitty’s Big Trouble (Kitty Norville) by Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)

August

Pale Demon by (The Hollows) Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager)
Retribution (Dark-Hunter) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Piatkus Books)
Downpour (Greywalker) by Kat Richardson (Piatkus Books)

October

Envy (Fallen Angels) by J. R. Ward (Piatkus Books)

Fantasy

March

Land of Painted Caves (Earth’s Children Book 6) by Jean M. Auel (Hodder & Stoughton)
Twilight’s Dawn (Black Jewels) by Anne Bishop (Roc)

April

Shadow Chaser (Chronicles of Siala) by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster)

Chick Lit

February

To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (Headline)

March

Summer of Love by Katie Fforde (Century)
Kiss and Tell by Fiona Walker (Sphere)

May

Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson (Corgi)

Crime

January

You Belong to Me by Karen Rose (Headline)

May

Virals by Kathy Reichs (Arrow (Young))

Into the Nightside

Simon Green doesn’t, in my opinion, write sophisticated stories.  He does however write engaging stories and interesting characters.  Into the Nightside brings together two reasonably short novels, Something from the Nightside and Agents of Light and Darkness which are the first and second Nightside stories.  I think putting them into a single paperback is pretty sensible because they’re really quite short on their own.

The stories revolve around a private detective (John Taylor) who has a knack for finding people and things, and the twist is the dark core of London – the Nightside.  A fantasy world within the normal world in which just about anything is possible.  Something from the Nightside gives a good introduction to John and the Nightside location, and Agents of Light and Darkness drive us a little further into the underlying threads Simon is trying to build.

Being both quite short, neither story really has a multi-threaded complex plot, rather we follow John on investigations which lead him through the mysterious, dangerous and fantastic world that is the Nightside.  We’re introduced to lots of characters with weird skills and histories and presented with magical beings and supernatural situations.  Most of the story is driven by either John’s internal monologue, or his conversations with the characters around him, interspersed with action and violence.

The book is certainly engaging, but at times I had to work hard to ignore the flaws.  Although John’s gift is the ability to find anything, he has built a reputation in the Nightside of being dangerous, and that reputation gets him out of rather more situations than it ought to.  Characters we meet are increasingly bizarre without any single thread tying them together, characters from science fiction, history, fantasy, the supernatural all mingling together.  At times I felt like I was looking at a rainbow made up of 86 colours, it might look pretty but you can’t really get a sense of any detail or specifics.  I ended up letting a lot of the background wash over me.

We are led to believe the Nightside is huge and heavily populated, but when it comes under massive sustained attack in Agents of Light and Darkness I didn’t get the sense of thousands of people trying to escape, just a small few making a desperate stand.  The Nightside is full of flat, endless hoards of non-descript fantastical beings.

Despite those issues, I did finish the book and I enjoyed it enough to pick up the second (Haunting the Nightside) which is again comprised of two stories.

Into the Nightside is pulp urban fantasy, it’s easy reading and the main characters are just engaging enough to keep you turning the pages despite the flaws.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Simon R. Green
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)