Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Shock of Night: Review

Willet Dura was going to be a priest. Then the war happened, and he became a soldier instead. Now he's ostensibly a noble, but he's also the king's reeve, in charge of sorting out Bunard's dirty laundry in the poor quarter.

Meanwhile an evil from abroad has crept into the city, spreading like a plague among all the different classes of Bunard's society. As reeve, Willet has to be on the scene, which puts him on an accidental collision course with an ancient, deadly secret--a secret that will change the way he sees the world.

Welcome to the world of The Darkwater Saga.

I introduced By Shock of Night briefly in my last post for the CSFF blog tour, but now it's time to do a more thorough review. Since this story is so closely tied up with its prequel novella, and since I haven't reviewed that story yet, I'm going to conflate the two books just slightly in this review--without giving any spoilers, if I can avoid that.

First of all: if you're going to read this series (and I recommend you do), start by reading the novella By Divine Right. You also don't necessarily need the novella to know what's going on in The Shock of Night, but it does help a lot to understand the cultural context for the story. Once you've read the novella, though, go ahead and skip over the first chapter or two of the novel. Those chapters show up at the end of the novella, so you won't miss anything and you'll avoid a small bit of jarring repetition.

Combined, the two books are a good story--a bit grim in places between a slew of mysterious, bloody attacks and Willet's work in the street's of the poor quarter. Carr paints a realistic setting, and fun isn't exactly the right word to describe these books, but I enjoyed them.

I'll admit, I was a little concerned at first. After reading just By Divine Right, Willet's character felt a lot like Errol Stone's character in Carr's previous series (A Cast of Stones, et al.). The two characters are a similar type--one not too different from G. A. Henty's typecast heroes if you are familiar with that author--but the similarities didn't bother me as much once the story got started. I also strongly object to the way Willet is set up to win his lady-love (even if she doesn't mind). It looks like there could be an interesting plot twist coming up with that, though, and I'm waiting to see how that plays out.

Apart from those issues, the story offers plenty of vim and excitement to balance out the negatives.

As with Carr's previous series, I loved the amount of world-building and general cultural development in this new world. There doesn't seem to be much throwaway material, just a lot of interconnecting details about the special 'gifts' and the caste system they've created, about the neighboring countries, past wars, and the overall unrest in society at court, among the merchants, and in the poor quarter where Willet Dura spends much of his time.

[Edit: In writing this post and the previous tour post at the same time, I neglected to mention in either that I received a review copy of The Shock of Night from the publisher in conjunction with the CSSF blog tour. My apologies for the oversight.]


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

This one and yesterday's post are really good, Aubrey. I like your observations, good and bad. And I agree that the novella is the place to start!


Audrey Sauble said...

Thanks, Becky!

Janeen Ippolito said...

Excellent point about there not being much throwaway material! It's impressive how Carr managed to weave everything into the narrative without info-dumping, and a sign of a true craftsman.

Audrey Sauble said...

Thanks, Janeen! I enjoyed reading your own thoughts on Willet as an antihero/underdog type.

Michelle R. Wood said...

Interesting that you thought Errol and Willet were two peas in a pod: for the most part, I couldn't work up much of an opinion one way or the other on the drunk-turned-hero, except annoyance at how he seemed to gum everything up. I guess he had pluck, but he was far too bumbling with moments of unearned brilliance for my tastes.

Willet, on the other hand, had me at "hello." He's savvy, smart, and funny in that special dark ironic way all detectives seem to possess. Maybe it's because I like mysteries so much, but I found these two stories a definite improvement over Carr's previous outings and one I look forward to reading more of.

Audrey Sauble said...

Maybe it was more the story-arc than the personalities that I noticed?

As Janeen mentions in her review, they both have a bit of an underdog-can't-lose feel, and A Cast of Stones starts with Errol as a nobody who then does something fantastic to save the kingdom. As a result, he gets rewarded with nobility and a girl. That's Willet's basic story in the novella, so I was cringing just a little and hoping Carr would change things up a bit, which he certainly did in Shock of Night.

Good point about it being a detective story--I love fantasy, so that's how I read it, but it definitely has a good detective story in there as well.

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