Roil is the first book of the The Nightbound Land duology (Angry Robot) by Brisbane author Trent Jamieson, and it’s fabulous — in more than one meaning of the word.
Trent’s always had a way with words — in all fairness, his debut series, The Business of Death — didn’t do him justice. It was a different style, quick and spare to match that corporate clickety-click of deeds done darkly. Roil is sumptuous, taking me back to some of his short fiction I remember fondly (that reading in Toowong cemetery? priceless; ditto Wordpool, ah); from its prose to its world building, you can sink into Roil in near perfect comfort.
In this fantasy world, a vast bank of preying darkness is creeping north to devour the few remaining human cities. A cruelly prgamatic mayor plots how to save his people; an Old Man is unleashed to try to stave off the inevitable, no matter the cost; a young drug-addled man and militant woman are caught up in the plots and violence.
Our hero, David, while addled, is capable, and has some surprises in store as Old Man Cadell takes him, however grudgingly, under his wing. Heroine Margaret is ruled by vengeance and packs a mean ice pistol. The support cast is well drawn but add to the edginess — Trent doesn’t shirk in the dispatch department.
He also handles horror tropes beautifully, whether it be zombies — both Haitian and Romero varieties — or the vampire-like Old Men, dragons, hellhounds and other fabulous members of his imaginative bestiary.
Likewise, the technology melds the best of steampunk, akin to Scott Westerfeld style, with living airships and jet-powered fighter planes, lasers and cool swords, steam trains, magic and mechanisations blended to produce icy weaponry and devastating weapons of destruction.
This is society on the edge of destruction and pragmatism rules. Has their industrial complex triggered this quasi environmental calamity?
Each chapter is introduced by an extract from a text — historical, autobiographical — lending the book a sense of timeliness, contrasting real events with recorded ones. For someone familiar with the Brisbane writing scene, some of the names of places and historians spark a grin, too.
The prose slips from omniscient reportage to intimate point of view, and it’s here on the nitty gritty level that there’s ash in the eye. Not much, but enough to cause the occasional blink. Angry Robot really does need to clean up its act in the proofing department — it’s not doing its writers nor its readers any favours with such shoddy work. Inconsistencies abound, in: line spacing to indicate a change of point of view within the scene; italics for direct thoughts; capitalisation; the spelling of focussed. No text is without its typos, and there are a couple of missing words; but the repeated old brought/bought blunder? haphazard punctuation and run-on sentences…?
This book, thankfully, more than overcomes these typographical quibbles. How fortunate that it’s taken me so long to get to Roil that the second and final book, Night’s Engines, is out now!