Roil (The Nightbound Land, #1)by Published 30 Aug 2011
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Shale is in trouble - the creature-filled darkness known as the Roil is expanding, consuming the land, swallowing cities whole. Where once there were 12 metropolises, now only 4 remain.
It's up to a drug addict, an old man and a woman bent on revenge to try to save their city - and the world.
File Under: Fantasy [ End Of The World | The Darkness Approaches | Addiction | On The Edge ]
e-book ISBN: 9780857661852
Roil (The Nightbound Land, #1) Reviews
When David's father is killed before his eyes he believes his world is ending. Unfortunately, not only is David's personal world ending, it's also ending for everyone else: the Roil is coming.
Margaret is the only child of famous inventors. The Roil has laid siege to their city for thirty years, and it's through their inventiveness that the city survives. But their big experiment goes horribly wrong.
Cadell finds David alone on the street and saves him from a fate similar to his father's. Cadell is an Old Man, born thousands of years before, cursed with sanity and an unquenchable hunger. He may be the only person able--and willing--to save the remaining cities of Shale from the Roil.
Medicine Paul is a victim of his own political scheming, and in order to survive must make a deal with the enemy.
ROIL by Trent Jamieson at first blush seems like your standard end-of-the-world fantasy novel. Instead we get dark fantasy with steampunk and zombie apocalypse flavor; he does his best to break those cliches and create something fresh in a fantasy-horror mash up. For the most part he succeeds...and in other ways falls disappointingly short.
Jamieson gets points for inventiveness. He sets up a world in turmoil, where city-states dot the landscape. Despite decades of knowing about the Roil, their own political infighting results in a people woefully unprepared for the Roil's sudden aggression. Cities fall. People die. They seem incapable of saving themselves. Add to this a varied cast of experience, naivete, and suffering, and we get an interesting world that's exciting and creative.
ROIL is narrated in limited third person, with occasional scenes in omniscient; this writing indecision will tell you right there that the author still has some things to learn about his craft (despite other published works). We have the four main characters, but Jamieson includes other scattered viewpoints, such as a random creature or bug or the soon to be deceased--sometimes switching around within the same scene. This lack of consistency affects clarity throughout and I found these side viewpoints (among which I include the confusing chapter headers) to be irrelevant to the story itself, if somewhat flavorful to the setting. At the least they are distracting. At the worst pointless filler that affect pace and reader patience when time could have been better spent on detailing a world and its history without the info dumps.
It didn't help either that it took almost the entire book to feel a connection with the characters. Don't get me wrong, they are well-drawn, but they're difficult to like. David is addicted to Carnival and lives in a stupor; the mysterious Cadell drags him along for reasons that makes no sense as the boy is a burden. Margaret must escape the fall of Tate, but can't grieve so goes through the motions of moving on--but with a chip on her shoulder. Medicine Paul...even by the end I'm not really clear on the purpose of his story line.
ROIL moves full-tilt. I like a quick-paced story, but ROIL often suffers from too-quick transitions between main characters; this makes scenes short and difficult to settle into a character's situation or personality and affects flow detrimentally. It also means that the setting and characters lack the establishing details necessary for readers to visualise the world itself. The world was interesting, and Jamieson would spend time on some lovely descriptions, but at other times gloss over important information. Again a lack of consistency.
Ultimately ROIL suffers from movie to book syndrome--only without the movie. It would probably translate well on a movie screen, but without a consistent narrative of clues that include setting, description, and viewpoint, this is a book of ideas without what it needs for a successful delivery. By the abrupt ending I had grown frustrated because I didn't get what I needed to love the characters and care about their plight.
Recommended Age: This book will appeal to teenage boys 14+; parents should be aware that a main character is addicted to recreational drugs, but not without consequences
Language: Maybe a dozen instances in the entire book
Violence: Death and blood throughout, but not excessively gruesome
Sex: Barely referenced
I purchased the Kindle edition ($2.99, down from the $7 I bought it for several months ago). I'm not sure about the print edition, but it had more than its fair share of formatting and editing errors.
Back in Grade 7, we studied short stories and storytelling. We covered Freitag’s Pyramid: introduction, inciting force, rising action, crisis/climax, denouement, and resolution. We studied The Most Dangerous Game, and we listed the different types of conflict: man vs man, man vs himself, man vs nature, etc. It’s a simplistic way to analyze literature, but it does provide a good foundation to build upon in later years, once you have the ability to make more nuanced observations. I still remember it this day, and drew upon it as I considered how to first cover short stories with my sixth form students! And, reading Roil, all I can think about is man versus nature. The eponymous phenomenon that threatens the twelve cities of Shale is a fierce manifestation of nature, a rejection of the mechanical hubris that humans in this world have used to remake it for their purposes.
This isn’t the most straightforward of books to follow. In both setting and style, it reminds me a little of China Miéville’s work. Trent Jamieson doesn’t quite replicate Miéville’s truly wondrous sense of the weird, but he comes close. Roil is a good case study for the debate of where to demarcate the line between fantasy and science fiction, and it demonstrates that sensible people will eventually conclude it’s difficult, nigh impossible, to draw such a line. The atmosphere of this book is decidedly fantasy, in a dark, swashbuckling sense. The technology is almost steampunk, with fantastic airships and moving carriages and cannons and guns that shoot ice. Oh, and trains. Good, old-fashioned trains. And a world-controlling Engine.
The Engine of the World is one of the most interesting parts of this book, even if it doesn’t get that much page-time. It ostensibly is the reason the Roil has not expanded as much or as fast as it could have. The Engine (which seems to be some kind of dimensional gateway on its best days) held it in check in the past. Now the Roil is on the march again, and the remaining cities of Shale are desperate enough to contemplate using it. But the only one who might be able to do so, the only sane architect of the Engine left alive, has escaped their custody.
I didn’t have the easiest time getting to know the main characters. Truth be told, I’m not sure I know them even now. Their names spring to mind easily enough, but if you asked me about their parentage, their motivations, their story arcs, I’d be hard-pressed to discuss them at any length. Roil is one of those works that skilfully disposes of exposition, preferring to establish its world through hints in dialogue, epigraphs, and the occasional epistolary evidence. It makes for a more intriguing story; I’d really like to spend more time in this world and get to know its people. But I didn’t get too close to them this time.
Hence, I find it difficult to really highlight any specific part of the book. There is no subplot that jumped out at me, no moment of redemption that moved me to tears, no triumph that inspired a cheer or laughter. Half the time I wasn’t sure what was going on, and the other half of the time I knew what was going on but didn’t necessarily understand its importance. For me, the most intriguing mystery was what Cadell wanted to do to the Engine of the World and how it would help them beat the Roil. The fact that David picks up Cadell’s mantle to complete the mission, with very little exposition explaining what was going on, doesn’t clear much up.
Jamieson’s world of Shale is one that intrigues me. I’d like to learn more. But he doesn’t give me enough to go on, enough to make me care about the insane conflict we land in the middle of at the beginning of Roil. It’s one thing to come up with an intense story featuring zombie-like creatures and a world-spanning phenomenon that wants to eat your cities; it’s another to present that story in such a way as to sustain the reader’s interest. In the end, Roil just didn’t leave much of an impression on me, as this somewhat over-generalized review probably demonstrates.
Is steampunk the new vampire urban fantasy? I feel like there's been a huge outbreak of steampunk this year. I guess it makes sense as a natural out growth of the huge boom in urban fantasy. For the most part steampunk tends to be more familiar to people than second world fantasy or space opera with no connection to the "real world". It is traditionally set in a Victorian or Old West environment with historical elements that make sense to mainstream readers and doesn't require vast amounts of information to understand. I would point out that Roil by Trent Jamieson isn't that kind of steampunk.
One of the real up and coming publishers Angry Robot Books, has definitely seen an uptick in steampunk novels. Unfortunately, I hadn't found a title of their's that really called to me until I saw Roil. Billed as steampunk in a second world fantasy setting, it reminded me of The Last Page, Anthony Huso's debut steampunk novel from Tor. Ever since I read Huso's debut, I have been looking for something similar that captured his talent for world building but exceeded his uneven storystelling. Roil did just that.
In Shale, the Roil is spreading. A black cloud of heat and madness has crept through the land, absorbing city after city. Where the Roil goes, life ends. Once there were 12 metropolises, now only 4 remain. Only the cold can stop the Roil and it's getting hotter. A young drug addict, an orphaned girl seeking vengeance, and an Old Man are all that stand between total darkness and the annihilation of humanity. Armed with cold suits, ice rifles, and the mysticism of Old Men the three begin a journey north to the Engine of the World - the only force capable of beating back the inexhaustible Roil.
If it seems curious that I capitalized Old Men thus far, it should. In Jamieson's world the Old Men are something akin to the Apostles of Christ if the Apostles had an insatiable hunger (use your imagination) and the ability to conjure ice at will. In this bad analogy the Engine of the World would be Christ. Throughout the novel who, and why, the Old Men are is of utmost interest. It is clear from early on that the Old Men are a bastion against the Roil. Where the Roil is hot as the sun, the Old Men are cold as hell.
One of the most frustrating things with steampunk for me is the lack of fantasy. Not in a genre sense, but in the sense of imagination. I always find myself asking the question, if I wanted to read about Victorian England why am I reading a steampunk re-imagining of it? Jamieson has totally sloughed off this genre standard in creating an entire second world fantasy. The Roil, the four metropolises, ice cannons, Engines of the World, and other epic sounding steampunk elements compose a beautifully dark, wholly imagined world that bears no resemblance to our own.
Jamieson populates his worlds as much with "villains" as with heroes. I put quotes around villains because to be frank, I'm not sure Roil has a villain. It's clear Jamieson wants his reader to hate Stade, the leader of the city of Mirrlees. He begins the novel by murdering his rivals in the street and doesn't get much friendlier from there. The truth is, he's trying to do right by his people. He sees the Roil as an inevitability and he wants to protect as many of his citizens as he can (everyone else can kiss his ass). Even the Roil itself, which is about as evil as it gets on the surface, is more a force of nature than a malevolent force.
Of course given that, it should be no surprise that Jamieson's heroes aren't particularly heroic. David, a young man of privilege is addicted to a drug called Carnival (heroinesque). He is often more concerned about scoring than he is about staying alive. His companion, an Old Man named John Cadell, isn't all roses either. In fact, he killed David's uncle a few years back. He's feels bad about it though. The list goes on and on. If a novel's strength is judged on its characters, then Roil is She-Hulk. Not the Incredible Hulk mind you (there isn't an iconic character in the bunch), but Jamieson has created a smorgasbord of captivating characters that bring everything to life.
That said, Roil is not without some fault. For all his exceptional world building and lush characterizations, Jamieson's narrative is decidedly standard to anyone who's read a surfeit of fantasy novels. Yet so are many of the paragons of the genre. Moreso than any genre, speculative fiction excels foremost through characters and setting. A strong, original narrative is all well and good, but without fantasy a novel will fall flat. On the strength of his setting and characters alone, I believe Jamieson has begun something that has the potential to be a standard bearer for Angry Robot and the steampunk subgenre.
And don't forget, Roil is the first in The Nightbound Land series - I'm sure Jamieson has a few twists and turns in store. So get back to work Trent, I'm ready for the sequel.
Sidenote: It's a real pain to write a review where one of the characters (Roil) is the same as the title of the novel (Roil). Just saying...
Release Information: Roil is due for a U.S. release on August 30, 2011 in Mass Market Paperback and Kindle.
After reading some other reviews, I was a tad anxious that the alleged infodumps and character-switching would put me off Roil. What I actually found was the opposite.
The world of Shale was a world I might have dreamed, and then been unable to find the words - so I'm pleased that Jamieson found a way to pin it down. It all made perfect, poetic sense to me. Yes, the archetypes we all know and love are here, but they are beautifully done, in a Fellowship of the Ring meets Dune kind of way, with an overhanging, Clive-Barkerish sense of malice.
Anyway, the writing is much prettier than in the Death Works series; more like what you find in Jamieson's short stories, and the individual cities, lost or living, cast solid shadows, both geographically and in the pages of Shale's imagined history. I am keen for the next book.
Also published under The Ranting Dragon
Author interview: http://bit.ly/qjmOyI
Roil is the impressive first installment in The Nightbound Land duology by Trent Jamieson, up-and-coming Australian author of the urban fantasy trilogy Death Works. Jamieson’s newest novel showcases a powerful imaginative streak, creating a darkly fascinating world and successfully combining elements of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and horror.
Roil is an apocalyptic tale set in a world called Shale, which lies on the brink of destruction by a seemingly unstoppable force known as the Roil. The Roil manifests as a malignant heat and creature-filled darkness, spreading across the land and engulfing everything in its path. Of the twelve great metropolises that once stood, all but four have been consumed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Roil is not only expanding at an unprecedented rate, it also seems to be changing, taking on an intelligence of its own. Humanity prepares to make its final stand. However, the last chance of salvation may well lie with a drug-addicted youth, a vengeful young woman and a mysterious 4000 year old man as they seek a mysterious machine from a bygone era, The Engine of the World.
No time for half measures or polite introductions
Our initial introduction to the strange and perilous world of Shale is far from gentle. Roil begins with our protagonist, David,witnessing the brutal murder of his father by political adversaries before he, himself, is forced to flee for his life. The reader is thrown into the thick of the action and from then on the story progresses at a lightning fast place. Cities fall and lives are destroyed in the blink of an eye.
Personally, I found this helped create a sense of urgency and confusion which really complimented the overall tone of the novel and the events depicted throughout. Like the reader, the characters are “thrown into the deep end” with little time to collect their thoughts. Nevertheless, most of the negative reviews I’ve seen cite this “ungentle introduction” as one of the aspects they disliked about the novel. Undeniably, this will appeal to some readers more than others, as will certain other aspects of the narrative.
For instance, each chapter of Roil begins with an excerpt from “future texts” regarding Shale. These excerpts relate at least tangentially to the events depicted within the chapter, despite (quite cleverly) not giving too much of the story away. This may be a little confusing or jarring to some readers. Personally, I was a little uncertain at first, although I found I grew accustomed to these passages relatively quickly and came to enjoy the foreshadowing.
A plethora of interesting viewpoint characters
Multiple events unfold at once throughout Roil and, as a result, there are a number of simultaneous narratives and frequent shifts between various points of view. Initially, I felt a little detached from the characters as the viewpoint would change before I could get a good grasp on their personalities. However, as the novel progressed I grew to relate to these imperfect individuals and found characterization to be one of the novel’s strongest points.
Jamieson’s characters manage to remain relatable and believable even as their lives undergo complete upheaval and their world falls to pieces around them. The protagonists all retain shades of moral ambiguity and even their most “noble” actions are frequently driven by selfish or morally suspect motivations. David has nowhere else to go and would rather spend his remaining life spaced out on the drug Carnival than have any responsibility; Margaret is driven by an insatiable desire for revenge; and Cadell’s motivations, like almost everything else about the Old Man, are shrouded in mystery. Furthermore, even the most ruthless antagonists, such as Stade, are not wholly evil, and truly believe they are doing what’s best for humanity given the circumstances.
A fascinating world of imagination and horror
For me, one of the outstanding aspects of Roil was the setting. Jamieson is undeniably imaginative and the creations with which he populates his world are refreshingly unpredictable and decidedly bizarre.
In many way the civilizations depicted are technologically advanced, although much of this advancement seems to be tailored specifically to holding off the Roil. One gets the impression that when faced with imminent destruction, development related to all but the most immediate concerns is stalled and some aspects of society may even regress. Therefore, although we have advanced ice weapons and cold suits, most other aspects of the world are less advanced and embody what could be considered elements of steampunk.
Many other fascinating concepts are introduced throughout Roil, including countless weird creatures and strange technologies. The mythology of the Old Men in particular was quite intriguing. Little is known about the Old Men, although the remnants of their once great civilization lie scattered across Shale. In addition, they have strange powers and are as cold as ice to the touch, the very antithesis of the Roil’s heat. Despite the presence of so many intriguing creations, description remains relatively sparse throughout Roil as Jamieson invites the reader to use their own imagination. While this keeps up the pace and adds to the authenticity of the setting and characterization (the characters, after all, have grown up knowing what an aerokin looks like), it will probably suit some readers better than others.
The horror elements throughout Roil are deliciously creepy and insidious. Jamieson doesn’t resort to graphic violence or severed limbs, instead creating a creepy ambiance that unnerved me in a way that excessive gore never could. Some of the scariest moments are those in which he hints at untold horrors yet once again leaves the rest up to the reader’s imagination. Much terror lies in the unknown, after all.
The plot ends at a logical resting point, although many plot lines are left unresolved and there is still much to discover about Jamieson’s world. If you’re anything like me, you will be hankering for the next installment straight after you finish, so less patient readers may want to wait until the conclusion is closer to publication before starting this weird and wonderful duology.
Why should you read this book?
Overall, despite the fact that Roil has some minor flaws, they did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Those who like their fantasy complete with weird technologies, creepy monsters, and interesting characters need look no further. Roil is a fun, absorbing, and action packed read that isn’t to be missed.