Nightlife – Rob Thurman

Honestly, the main reason I chose this right when I did was that about halfway through 2011 I unofficially took on a challenge to read a book starting with every letter of the alphabet. “N” was surprisingly elusive. (“X” and “Z” are about what you’d expect.) I liked the synopsis, though, so off I went – and with the added bonus that this is the first book I read on my Christmas-present-Kindle.

Cal Leandros is on the run with his brother, Niko – his half brother, that is, as they share only a mother. Where Niko’s father was a known quantity and simply deadbeat and out of the picture, Cal’s … led to their not-very-motherly mother naming him Caliban. He has lived his whole life knowing he is half monster – his mother never let him forget it, and a few years ago he was taken by his father’s … people, the creatures he and his brother call the Grendels. He came back a few days after, but in the interval he lost two years somewhere: he matured, his hair grew, but he remembers nothing – not really a bad thing. But ever since the Grendels have hunted him, and he no more wants to know what they’ll do if they catch him than he wants to know what they did while they had him.

It’s not a ground-breaking story, to start with. Boy lives with mystery surrounding origins, boy doesn’t know exactly what he is or what he’s capable of; there are monsters everywhere; boy is on the run from monsters… But there are some aspects which are unique. One: without (hopefully) giving away too much, the first-person narrative takes a turn almost in mid-paragraph, tone and personality changing completely. Because of the circumstances of the change, I kept expecting the POV to shift – and it never did, and that made for some unusual reading.

Auphe - or Grendel - from author's site

Also, there is a fairly different take on mythology and the usual urban fantasy bestiary. These aren’t Tolkien’s elves, though, oddly perhaps, there is no explanation posited as to why public perception is so skewed as to expect Pretty Shiny Good elves. Werewolves, vampires, and Puck – yes, that Puck – are couched solidly in this world. The evil is pretty purely evil, but while this is usually a no-no it is fitted well into the world the author has built. (I do wonder why so many fantasy worlds have purely evil creatures – and yet no one ever seems to try out a purely good creature. Certainly what I’ve seen of those appalling fantasies that use angels as characters don’t try for pure good, given the amount of sex said angels seem to have. But I digress.)

The human – or mostly so – characters are also well handled. I quite liked the handful of secondary characters, and I think I will enjoy more about those who survived this book. Nik is darn near perfect – and yet I liked him anyway. I think my only problem with Niko in the narrative was that the descriptions were a little more admiring of his appearance than seemed quite right for a younger brother, but it’s not impossible. Cal is … how to put this politely? Ah: a teenager. Whatever else is going on in his life and his head, he is a teenaged boy – there are glimpses of a likeable, intelligent human being, but they are buried in a pile of laziness and sarcasm and juvenile humor. Still, while this is not the character whose head I would rush to share, it was more agreeable than it might have been. There are reasons for the point of view, and for the choices in narration, and it works.

I liked it. It didn’t blow me away – almost, in spots, but not overall. It was a promising beginning – which, by the way, ended in such a way as to open the door very wide for an intriguing Book 2. The introduction of these two characters happens very late in the story, and they change the whole game. It’s abrupt, as though they were just invented – yes, a bit deus ex machina – and this might have been alleviated if they had at least been mentioned at some point earlier, which spoiled the flow of the story a bit for me, but not irreparably. Overall, I’d say 3.5 stars (rounded because Goodreads doesn’t do halves to four).

>>>Spoiler

(Also, the fact that Rafferty is a healer, and can bring a person back from just about death, left me asking “What about George’s father?” The tragedy of Samuel’s decision to work with the Grendels in the misbegotten hope that they could cure his brother – and dying for the choice – is undermined by the fact that here is this fellow Nik and Cal have known for ages who could have prevented the whole situation. I could wish for a scene in which one of the brothers had mused on this, leading to someone providing an excuse or explanation; as it is, it seems an unnecessary cruelty to the whole lot of them.)

Author’s site (“Rob” is NOT short for Robert, fyi…)

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