This book collects parts 1-8 of the Nightblade serial. Loren has lived her entire life in a small village in Selvan Forest. Viewed as merely source of free labour by her father, a good dowry in waiting by her mother, and a target for abuse by both, her only escape are her fantasies of becoming the most famous thief in the world. A chance encounter with Xain, a fugitive wizard, leads to a snap decision to leave everything she knows behind.
While Robinson makes no secret that this is the first volume of an ongoing series, these eight parts form a complete arc between significant events. As such, while the end of part eight does not resolve everything, most readers will feel satisfied by a meaningful progression rather than left hanging. That said, the ending is a strong hook into the next volume preventing this book from truly standing alone.
The joins between parts are smooth, so – while a reader who has read more than one of the parts might guess them in advance – the book does not flow like eight separate chunks of a story. Indeed, the previous release as a serial has produced a book with more frequent hooks than average, making it – if anything – a more intense read than many fantasy works of similar length.
Taken at the highest level, this is the classic fantasy tale of a farm hand heading of in search of adventure, complete with the conflict between plain honest peasant-craft and complex political civilisation, noble thieves, and mysterious forces. However, Robinson does not limit himself to the safe discomforts and conflicts of the chosen one trope: the child abuse threaded through the narrative is realistic rather than fairytale; and the violence by many is casual rather than only the evil of the clearly bad or justified defence of the clearly good.
Despite the gritty realism of life as a youth in a feudal world, the plot also contains plenty of lighter moments where Loren’s mix of cunning and naïvety conflict with expectations.
Loren herself is equally a mix of classic fantasy and gritty realism. Her expectations of life are straight out of a fable: stealing from the deserving, having trusted companions, slipping unseen from shadow to shadow. However, the abuse she has suffered in childhood also manifests in a very plausible ambivalence to threats: she either capitulates without attempting opposition or refuses to accept weakness. Shifting along these two axes from scene to scene, she displays archetypal yet complex reactions, making her a sympathetic if occasionally irritating character.
The supporting cast also show this mix of the immediately recognisable and the nuanced. Decent humane guards break the law not to avoid injustice but due to specific corruption. Motherly crime lords genuinely care for the cheeky ruffians who steal for them, but also possess decidedly unsavoury habits.
Although Robinson’s particular version of teenage hero discovering a more complex world is closer to young adult than epic fantasy, it has the complexity to engage readers with greater experience of fantasy and life in general.
Overall, I enjoyed this book greatly. I recommend it to readers looking for light, fast-paced fantasy played straight.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.