K. Eason, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (2021)

Author: K. Eason

Title: Nightwatch on the Hinterlands 

Format: e-book

Pages: 416

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).

WH40K Ultramarines (I think ;)) I imagine Iari’s rig to be something similar 😉

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.

Score: 8/10

37 thoughts on “K. Eason, Nightwatch on the Hinterlands (2021)

  1. Who is Rory Thorne and why is she popular enough to get a spinoff series that has nothing to do with her?
    See, the dangers of forever extending some franchise/series. Now I just want to be contrary and hate this book on principle of curmudgeonliness 😉

    But in all honesty, it actually sounds pretty enojyable. If it was a standalone I’d definitely add it but as the start of a new series, not a chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually don’t give a… fill in whatever is appropriate 😉 about Rory Thorne. I picked this up on the premise of it being a totally separate thing, and it pretty much is. I think you’d enjoy it, from the Templars to the nasty Brood things, but yeah, the feeling of this being a first book in the series is unmistakeable for the last quarter or so. Still, it’s pretty enjoyable 😀

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    1. I read your enthusiastic review and it was what made me move it up my TBR, so thanks! 🙂 Good to know about Rory Thorne, from what I’ve read I don’t think I’d enjoy these books that much, so I’m very glad I started with Nightwatch 😀

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  2. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the first Rory Thorne book and it kind of turned me off from continuing the series or look into checking out this one as well. But after reading your review, it’s made me second guess myself. As Tammy mentioned, it sounds so different…which, for me, might actually be a good thing! I’ll keep this book in consideration.

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  3. Uhh. I sort of echo Andreas’s feelings here. I don’t really know what think about books like this and those WH40K things. It looks like a computer game fan fiction. The world and plot sound a bit like a game as well. But if you like it, hey, enjoy it!

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    1. I feel like I’m selling this short, somehow 😉 The inspirations are there, but they are not so blatant – as I said to Andreas, I don’t think any other review mentions it (though maybe the readers haven’t read either WH or D&D-inspired stuff ;)) I think it’s a pretty neat book – it may have taken some shortcuts with the building blocks of the world, but the worldbuilding itself is quite satisfying and complex indeed.

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        1. Hmm I thought LitRPG is a playable book, in essence. WH40K is more of a Star Wars-type franchise, with multiple authors writing novels in the same setting and with general plot points around which everyone builds their own story arcs. Same for D&D, and there’s even more leeway in D&D-inspired worlds (which in effect are Tolkien-inspired ;))
          I’ve read Abnett’s Gaunt books, they are enjoyable enough but don’t expect originality – it’s effectively gritty MilFantasy in space, with bits of fantasy thrown in the mix. Bookstooge will know more about this, as he read more of WH and WH40K than me 😉

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            1. Hmm I read up a bit and it’s even more strange: these are books about being in a game, but not playable: it looks like you just read about a character that’s in a MMO game and gets various RPG messages about damage sustained, leveling up and stuff within the book as results of his and others’ actions 😉

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      1. When it comes to WH40K I was recommended Dan Abnett’s Gaunt Ghosts series.
        As for D&D inspired settings, well, there’s so many to choose from 😉 Even Erikson admits Malazan was based off a D&D-based RPG. Same goes for Feist’s Magician series. But probably the most vanilla one, and among the earliest examples, would be Dragonlance Chronicles.

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  4. This is completely different from the Rory Thorne setting – even though I read only the first book – and while I know *nothing* about the two games which inspired it, I’m intrigued enough to want to give this one a chance: your definition of a “fresh, tasty dish” is the encouragement I need to take the plunge 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Fantastic review, Ola. I’m glad that it manages to be its own thing despite not being completely new in its ideas and direction. If it succeeds there with you, then it must indeed be quite well executed! I’ll look forward to seeing how you fare with the rest of the series as they come out in the future. 😀

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  6. I am so glad you enjoyed it! I have both the series by this author on my TBR (this one is the newest add in there!) and now I am even more curious! I want to meet all these different races and the characters! Also, it seems a really nice reading on the whole. Thanks for sharing!

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