woensdag 12 juni 2013

Review: Mike Shevdon, Sixty-One Nails

If there is one thing that confuses me most when it comes to Fantasy, it's the whole subgenre thing. There's epic, high, low, dark, urban, urban-fairy, ... The list goes on and on and on and in the end, I can't wrap my head around it anymore. Whenever I label a new purchase in my excel-file (*), it's more a well-aimed game of darts rather than an accurate display of my subgenre-knowledge. I do know, however, that when the book features a hot chick or skillful wizardesque guy that knows how to kick ass and does that in a contemporary day and age, I have a fairly good chance of correctly choosing 'urban fantasy'. This may account for, say, 95% or even more, and while I very much enjoy novels that fit the description, stumbling upon the odd one out that takes the genre somewhere unexpected, can be an utter delight. Mike Shevdon's Sixty-One Nails happens to belong to the latter pile.

There is a secret war raging beneath the streets of London. A dark magic will be unleashed by the Untainted...Unless a new hero can be found. Neverwhere's faster, smarter brother has arrived. 
The immense Sixty-One Nails follows Niall Petersen, from a suspected heart attack on the London Underground, into the hidden world of the Feyre, an uncanny place of legend that lurks just beyond the surface of everyday life. The Untainted, the darkest of the Seven Courts, have made their play for power, and unless Niall can recreate the ritual of the Sixty-One Nails, their dark dominion will enslave all of the Feyre, and all of humankind too.

I do read quite a lot of urban fantasy and most of them fit the description as stated earlier. What we get here, is quite the opposite. Niall is a middle-aged man who doesn’t know anything about anything and is completely new to this stuff. The first part of the book sees him discovering his magic and at the same time introduces us to the world Shevdon has created. Later on, there is precious little ass kicking going on and more of a quest that has to be completer in order to prevent bad shenanigans from happening. I got the feeling that the ideas presented here are more leaning towards Epic fantasy which are poured into and Urban setting. The result was the creation of something very refreshing. This quest we're talking about, the restoring of the Quit Rents ceremony, is an actual existing happening where Shevdon has put his own spin on. This I highly appreciated, as well as the information on the actual ceremony included at the back of the novel.
Because Niall has a lot to discover, the story isn’t that past-paced, but it still was quite a fast read because the world of the Feyre was very intriguing. Forget all the beautiful, tall, pointy-eared people you think of right away. The seven Courts differ from each other and most of them don’t even come close to looking human. Each Court has its own form of magic, and whilst there wasn’t a lot of ass-kicking involved, there was some serious power play which made for a fascinating read. The main focus, however, is on the Seventh Court. The other six don’t come into the picture until the very end and I hope they will play a bigger role in the books to come, but the Untainted were capable of carrying the book on their own. They have a fascinating set of powers to display and they Fey themselves are quite the creepy kind. Whenever they showed themselves, especially the woman, the atmosphere got really eerie.
Another thing that, for me, made the novel anything but cookie-cutter, was the setting. Instead of some random American city as is so much the case in Urban fantasy – or at least in those books that I’ve read – this story takes place in London. For once, I was able to picture things how they really are and not my own rendition of some city I've never been. It’s a small thing, of course, but it’s just nice to envision Niall walking the same streets that you have walked. It just adds that little extra to the whole experience. In sum, the world-building was top-notch!

The main characters here are Niall and Blackbird, and I liked them. I don’t think they are the kind of characters that stick with you long after and I won’t be mentioning them when someone asks me for my favourite characters, but they are so very much fitting for this book. I can’t really pinpoint why, but when I was finished with the book, I felt like only Niall and Blackbird could have made this story the way it is. The combo of characters and plot just worked like a charm.
Because Niall knows nothing (**), both him and the reader start out knowing nothing and experience and learn things the same. This was quite nice, opposed to being confronted with someone who already knows the tips and tricks of the business and takes you along for just another ride. While it took me some time to warm up to Blackbird – she doesn’t make it that easy to love nor trust her – I appreciated their interaction and quite like them as a duo. They shared some good moments in this book.
As far as I know is this Shevdon’s first novel. The writing sure doesn’t tell. It feels like the umpteenth book by a well established author and not a debut. The writing is fluent, never contrived, not overly descriptive and finds a good balance between the more darker and upbeat parts in the book.

I happened to stumble upon this series when I won a signed copy of the third book and had to go looking for books one and two. This was, once again, evidence of the fact that there are a lot of very talented authors out there who are not that well known. Mike Shevdon is one of those and Sixty-One Nails is a very good, non-kick-ass urban fantasy that is definitely worth diving in to.


Fancy a trip to the unseelie parts of London yourself? Grab your ticket here.

(*) Well, what did you expect?
(**) Yes, I did envision Blackbird telling Niall in a husky voice: "You know nothing, Niall Petersen".

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