Through the first few months of the year, readers of A Dribble of Ink saw a lot of coverage of Nights of Villjamur, the first volume of Solaris Books editor Mark Charan Newton. Well, now readers in the UK (and those savvy enough to use The Book Depository) can get their grubby mitts on the novel, because it’s finally on store shelves!

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton

A few highlights from some of my coverage:


I know you’re a big fan of writers such as M. John Harrison, China Miéville and Gene Wolfe and count them as big influences in your writing. What does Nights of Villjamur have to offer to fans of those writers. And, on the other hand, what does it have to offer to those who are more into lighter, more traditional fantasy?

I started writing in the first place after I read Miéville’s The Scar – I couldn’t find anything similar on the shelves. Nothing else did what that book did so I thought I’d give it a go myself, initially writing consciously under that dreaded New Weird banner…

I mean the New Weird was a bit of a misnomer – a stillborn literary movement which these days just leads to rejection letters. In editorial offices, the NW died years ago; so I had to resort to more traditional aesthetics.

But I hope that the spirit the New Weird (and New Wave for that matter) lives on in what I do now – an interest in doing something slightly different that the normal, writing with a conscious style, thinking of unusual themes and seeing if people want to think about different things. Mixing genres, too. So that’s what I think might appeal to fans of those writers. (And, for the very keen-eyed, I’ve slipped in a few references to them – someone in NOV, for instance, wears a Fuligin-coloured cloak, which is the same as worn by Severian in The Book of the New Sun.)

But, all this pretentious solipsistic nonsense aside, there’s huge amounts of fun shit in there too. In fact, it should be core to any modern book – you can’t write classics like Viriconium in the modern publishing world, it just wouldn’t be accepted by editors who are looking for a modern story. I love fantasy – I’m not ashamed to say I write it. I’m a fanboy at heart, I do read in the genre, and there’s a lot to celebrate here.

I mean, I’m not going to attack Tolkien simply for the sake of acquiring cool – I have RayBans for that task. I understand the importance of story and entertainment to readers. So I hope the pacing is good enough to appeal to the fans of lighter fantasy, that the narrative entertains, and that there are exciting enough creatures, and that the characters, although a little messed-up in the head at times, can charm…

In a nutshell: the deeper things are there if people want to find them, and if not, then that’s cool too. Literary endeavor should not exclude entertainment. (But I’d also add to that: entertainment should not be an excuse for failed literature…)


Mark Charan Newton wears his influences on his sleeve, boldly name-dropping the likes of M. John Harrison, China Miéville and Gene Wolfe as driving forces behind his first novel, Nights of Villjamur. But where does that leave me, a self-professed anti-snob – a fan of Terry Brooks and John Scalzi, shy of those more literary works of fantasy, even downright terrified (if forced to be honest)? This was a question I asked myself as I cracked open Newton’s first novel, and I’ll admit I was afraid of the answer.

The most immediately jarring asset of Newton’s debut is the prose. Shockingly contemporary, one has to wonder if this tale of political intrigue might be set not on a fictional fantasy world, but in a far future version of our own, corrupted beyond recognition. Newton sets few ground rules with his prose – noirish and moody as it follows a washed up detective tackle a series of mysterious murders; erudite and pretentious when following the leader of a dark cult, tackling the morality behind necromancy; casual and loose as a roguish con-artist ignores every rule of the vicious noble circle into which he is thrown. I’ll admit to struggling with this early in the novel, with the prose seeming to get in the way of the story, but as the novel moves on, Newton’s command of the language tightens dramatically and I started to forget these concerns, instead focussing on the story and characters at hand.

Nights of Villjamur is being bandied about by reviewers and publicists as a literary fantasy, delving into the underused Dying Earth sub-genre and written to appeal to those looking for something more from their fantasy. While this is certainly true, I was surprised at how much more there was to the novel from the perspective of a Terry Brooks fan. I was worried I would find a dense, overwritten piece of philosophical literature hidden under a fantasy verneer (think Terry Goodkind’s Naked Empire, but not piss-poor), but what I found instead was a tightly plotted novel that worked just as well as a fantasy novel as it did a piece of introspective literature. In short, it would behoove potential readers to drop preconceptions of ‘literary’ fantasy and give Nights of Villjamur a fair shot. With a more than competent debut, Newton seems smartly poised to tackle a wide swathe of readers with Nights of Villjamur, and his future as a writer is bright, indeed.

Mark’s a good friend of mine, and has supported A Dribble of Ink since the beginning (regardless of any negative reviews I may have written about Solaris novels…) and I’m eager to spread the word about his first novel.

  • edifanob June 6, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Still need to finish the book. Played too much Anno for Wii in the past days. What I have read so far is superb.
    The number of reviews is increasing. On Friday I posted links to 13 reviews of NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR. Enough stuff to build up your mind whether to buy and read it or not.

  • James June 11, 2009 at 5:25 am

    I have my copy. I now need to shuffle it into the ‘to be read’ pile, somewhere near the top.

  • John Anealio June 12, 2009 at 3:28 am

    I’m really looking forward to reading this one. It sounds really interesting, and in addition to being a great writer, Mark seems to be a great guy.