A little while ago, I reviewed The Book of Transformations which is the latest instalment in the Legends of the Red Sun series by Mark Charan Newton. Although the book left me somewhat disappointed, it was not an accurate representation of how I feel about the series and I felt that it needed to be made clear as I doubt I’ll ever backtrack enough through my ‘read’ pile, to review either of the previous instalments.
Nights of Villjamur was one of those books that I picked up several times in the bookstore before finally deciding to go ahead and purchase it. There was just something about that book that I couldn’t forget after I first looked at it. It took me a while nonetheless to get round to reading it. And when I did, it certainly made for a different read: there was just something about Newton’s world that felt…unconventional.
But that was only part of what gripped me: what really drew me in through the entirety of Nights of Villjamur, and the rest of the series, is the strength of characterisation. All of the characters encountered are strong, unique, and most of all interesting to the point that I found myself grumbling when one of the ‘villains’ of Nights encountered what seemed to be an untimely end. Even though I had grown to thoroughly loathe the character for what he had done, I was also fascinated by the person that Newton had presented me with. I wanted to see more of him. But it could be said that I wanted to see more of everyone.
The strength of characterisation is definitely what hooked me, and kept me hooked. Not one of the characters lacks depth, none of them are flat, and whether they are likeable or not, they are all at least intriguing—at least up until The Book of Transformations where a couple of POVs seem to feel flat, but that I talked about that in my review. Newton delivers some of my favourite characters of all time, each unique, flawed, and yet incredibly real.
In the risk of descending into complete fanboyism, I must mention my favourite of his characters: Brynd Lathraea, the gay albino; Commander of the Night Guard. I was intrigued the second I found out that Brynd was gay, as he was officially the first lead character that was gay, that I had ever encountered. It was a sort of revelation. But it was a revelation because it doesn’t really matter that Brynd is gay. Yes, it causes tensions (especially in City of Ruin) and yes, it is part of him that he has to keep hidden because of the law. But it doesn’t dictate who he is; instead it is simply part of him. Brynd isn’t who he is because he is gay, he is just another person who just so happens to have a different sexual orientation.
The fact that Brynd isn’t normal isn’t because he is gay—or even albino for the most part—it is the fact that he is an enhanced human. That is what makes Brynd truly different and it is that which bares more relevance on the plot than him being gay. Newton managed to convey the character brilliantly without overplaying the fact that he is part of a minority. Brynd is simply my favourite character of the series, through his stoicism and sometimes, coldness, I still find that he is a wonderfully deep and likeable character.
But the characters aren’t just what make Newton’s work so interesting to read. He offers us something different from most fantasy books you’ll find on the shelves: his world is much more complex than it appears at first in Nights where the story only starts to hint at the other dimensions present in the world. City and then BoT are the books where we get a larger understanding of what exists beyond the borders of the Archipelago. The world was a highly intriguing feature of the series: it feels exotic and yet familiar, mixing both to create a very successful setting that often feels as though it is ready to leap off the page and take on a life of its own. Villjamur and Villiren feel alive: the cold permeates out of the book and the reader is glad to find refuge inside a warm, cosy bistro with a hot drink.
Newton’s writing is what makes all this possible: it is simply right for the world and story he is crafting. He describes just enough to give the reader a real impression of his world and characters whilst still leaving enough to the imagination that the reader does not feel pigeon-holed in what they see. The writing is fluid and seamless with realistic dialogue. The fight scenes were not my favourite parts of the books, however, but they did do the job efficiently although there were times when, in large scale battles, I found myself confused as to what exactly was happening and who was where.
Legends of the Red Sun has been referred as ‘new weird’ and ‘weird fantasy’ and it does deserve it: so much of what happens within all three instalments is different, in that it jars with what is perhaps more widely expected of a fantasy book. And yes, because of that, it does make for a rather weird read at times: with other dimensions, creatures that belong in our worst nightmares and many, many unexplained phenomenon (especially in BoT). I would go as far as saying that, at times, the series flirts with science-fiction with its airships, mechanically changed humans, and inter-dimensional travel.
It is also a series filled with a political and social agenda: Newton presents us with a world that can be seen to be very similar to ours in some of its aspects (especially political ones) and he uses it to tackle some issues he thinks are important. Throughout all three books Newton presents characters that stand for some minorities (Lan is a transwoman and Brynd is homosexual) but he does so in a way that the fact that they are part of said minorities is only a small part of those characters, and does not infringe on who they truly are. And that is what made both those characters so wonderful.
I could ramble on more about Newton’s work: about his characters, about the little details that made everything come alive, about how, despite my opinion of the third book, Legends of the Red Sun is one of those series I cannot wait to read the last instalment of. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you all to go and buy Nights of Villjamur and plunge head first into that world. And I would advise you start there, just so can familiarise yourself with the world and characters for although the books can work separately, I believe they are best enjoyed in their proper order.