While many fantasy stories are epic in scale, not all of them move from action scene to desperate situation; some are more deliberate and intentional in their collection of details into a story. Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens is, I would say, an epic fantasy that is happy to burn slowly into something dramatic.
1. Thoughts on the plot
This story follows Guyen, a refugee in the land of his enemies. He plans not only to survive, but to fight back, until his brother falls into a coma to do with the Faze—the magical energies of the world—and Guyen is called to the capital. There, he works on Faze and Binding, deals with political intrigue, and discovers the world is much, much larger than his own problems.
Taken as a storyboard, this story is fairly typical. Person washes up in land of his enemy, discovers he is something a bit more, learns from his enemy and discovers that things are not what they seem. It’s a generally standard epic fantasy-style story where the stakes grow ever larger as our hero’s knowledge increases. However, this plot is very, very detailed. The intricacies of Guyen’s day-to-day life are often laid out and we see much of his thought proceses as he goes about his life.
Generally speaking, I like stories that delve this deeply into a character, because I find that the details are the pieces that really make a story interesting and relatable. This story is fairly good in that regard, but I think that there is too much detail and the overarching plot gets lost in the minutiae. At least, that is true until about 65% of the way through the novel when the threads start to really weave together. Okay, that’s generally fine with me; I don’t need to understand everything all the time and having things come together later is usually what I prefer. But this novel is also 650 pages and it took a very long time to get to the point where the plot really took off.
So the plot was good, even very interesting, but a little too bogged down in detail, I think.
2. Thoughts on the character
Guyen is, on the surface, another example of a fairly standard epic fantasy-style hero. He has a staunch loyalty to his family—his brother in particular—and a firm belief in right and wrong. He is fond of books and learning and determined. These are all fantastic character traits, and Guyen displays them well. He is a likeable hero and, given the detail that is presented in describing his life (mentioned above) we see a lot of what goes into his thought processes.
The only thing I would like is a little more definitive presentation of intent in his actions. There is most certainly a purpose in what he is doing (no spoilers, sorry) and that makes perfect sense to drive his actions for about 90% of the book. But there is that extra 10% where his purpose doesn’t apply, either because he has to wait for something else to happen or because something else gets in the way. In these situations, Guyen’s actions make perfect sense, but they don’t really seem to have a reason behind them other than they further the plot.
I would say that I like Guyen; he’s a nice hero to follow and I grow really sympathetic towards him around the point of the trial (again, sorry, no more than that for spoiler purposes). Actually, at that point, he really begins to shine as a character and I find that I like him quite a lot.
3. Favourite part
The trial! I cannot really describe this a whole lot because spoilers, but I can say that I really like it when logical arguments win out despite political machinations and angry people getting in the way. It’s pretty much my favourite thing to read.
My only real critique for this book is mentioned in section 1; the plot gets a little too bogged down in the detail. I don’t really have a problem with slow burn novels. In fact, I often prefer them. In this case, I just feel that the overarching plot was a little lost amongst the individual pieces. It’s not a huge issue, especially once you hit the 65% mark in the book and the pacing picks up a significant amount, making all those earlier details important, but it did take a bit to get through.
Overall, I would say that Nether Light is a solidly good book. The characters were interesting (Mist was my favourite) and the story was more on the unique scale for all of the pieces that seem “standard” for an epic fantasy. The magic was well-crafted, the world very realistic, and the ups and downs well paced. If you’re looking for a story to really sink your teeth into for a long weekend, this is definitely one to consider.