Author: K. Eason
Title: Nightwatch on the Hinterlands
Series: The Weep #1
An opening to a new series set in the Rory Thorne universe, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands is a fast-paced SF noir mystery inspired by WH40K and D&D, featuring a duo of unlikely allies embroiled in a conflict that starts small but grows exponentially – and quite satisfyingly – throughout the book.
I haven’t read the Thorne books, but the author and publisher are adamant that Nightwatch can be read without prior knowledge of the world – and honestly, I think it’s better this way, because discovering the context and various subtexts is a big part of the fun. There might have been some references to the Thorne books or characters which I missed, but generally the plot of Nightwatch is independent and moved far into the future, with completely new protagonists and problems. The Warhammer inspiration is surprisingly enjoyable, with nanotech-enhanced and devout Templars clad in full-body, mecha-like armor and dedicated to fighting against chaotic Brood swarming out of multi-dimensional fissures in the void (the Weep).
The D&D allegiance of Eason is also worn on her sleeve, as Nightwatch’s world is populated with orc-like race of tenju, dragonborn-like race of vakari, gnome-like wichu specializing in artifice, and human-like humans as well as a mysterious and slightly elf-like race of k’bal (there’s also one other race, but it’s only mentioned a few times and I forgot the name ;)). There’s also a separate group which I hesitate to call a race or species – the riev, which seem to be a cross between Frankenstein’s monsters (animated corpses sewn from disparate body parts) and cyborgs, with a rudimentary form of hive mind. Riev were created as a weapon in the war against vakari, and later Brood. Now, decommissioned, they search for a new purpose. Each race has its own culture and aptitudes, and a lot of technological progress among humans and tenju came from the original inequalities between the colonizing dominant race of vakari and the rest. Taking a leaf out of Clarke’s book, Eason depicts magic in her world as a highly advanced mathematical science (arithmancy) to which certain races have more propensity than others.
All in all, it’s a refreshing mix, making something maybe not original but at least its own from old tropes and themes.
There is a lot of exposition, but to be fair, a lot of it actually comes handy – at least at the beginning. Then it gets too much, but fortunately the repetitions are minimized. The worldbuilding is extensive, and enjoyable, with various factions, plenty of historical and cultural baggage (yes, there was a war on, not that long ago, and now the former enemies must learn to live side by side in the face of greater threat that was a direct result of the war they made), and a lot of stereotypes and general inter-species mistrust that feels quite natural.
The two protagonists on display are Iari, a tenju, a devoted Templar and a veteran of Brood war, and Gaer, a vakari ambassador and spy who is treated with suspicion as a representative of a lethal enemy from not so long ago. The two have a great dynamic throughout the book, starting out as acquaintances of necessity, with Iari babysitting Gaer, and becoming fast and loyal friends through adversity, as they learn to trust each other, care for each other and have each other’s back. There are also two almost-protagonists, appearing in the middle of the novel but bound to play a larger role in the next installment: Char, a riev of few words with a rather stoical but quite charming personality, and a disillusioned, embittered vet and a former sergeant of Iari, a hard boiled private detective Corso. The only human of significance, Iari’s supervisor and father-figure, the Knight Templar Tobin, plays a remote second fiddle to the rest of the team.
As for the plot, it is rather vanilla. Our motley crew discovers a nefarious plot (how could they not, nefarious plots are bread-and-butter in this genre ;)) and races to save the city from an evil arithmancer who plans a world-domination through subjugation and mass slaughter. Nothing new there, but the strengths of the novel lie somewhere else: in the worldbuilding, and in the relationships between characters. Eason devotes a lot of time and attention to her worldbuilding, and it pays off: the hinterland planet of Tanis feels believable and alive, and the weight of history, particularly the interspecies conflict and the emergence of Weep and Brood, is almost palpable in the relationships between the characters, in the everyday conversations, in the architecture and institutions and politics.
The relationships between the five characters are also very well done. There is a lot of warmth and coziness, but it is earned and (with the exception of a few scenes that could’ve been cut short) Nightwatch admirably manages not to overdose sweetness and balances it with action and tension.
Nightwatch on the Hinterlands is an enjoyable and satisfying mix of fantasy, light SF, and noir mystery. It takes old ingredients, spices them up with just the right amount of references and nostalgia, garners them with appetizing hints of politics and history, and makes a fresh, tasty dish. Quite a pleasant surprise, indeed! I was hoping for a standalone when I picked it up on NG, but now I’ll be looking forward to the next installment. The cover is pretty neat, too! 🙂
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks.