by Rob Thurman
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0451460758
Date: 07 March, 2006 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
He's not going to like it.
Such is Nightlife by Rob Thurman, a new entry in the dark urban fantasy field. Cal and Niko have been fleeing from the Auphe for years, ever since Niko gave up his chance at college in order to protect Cal. Niko's made himself into a fighting machine and master of folklore, while Cal takes jobs like being an assistant bartender at a no-name joint.
When they have a scare--spotting an Auphe in the city--Cal and Niko seek guidance from Georgina, a girl with oracular abilities. Though she seems reassuring, Cal (for the first time) doesn't trust her and demands more, getting a clue that sends them to a car dealership. Once there, they make the acquaintance of a supernatural who claims to be the original Robin Goodfellow, friend of Shakespeare and all-around troublemaker.
Goodfellow decides to hypnotize Cal to find out what happened to him, when the Auphe captured him and took him into their world. For Cal, who cannot remember anything of that time, years passed; for Niko, who waited until he returned, it was merely days. In any case, it's no good; the attempt unlocks berserker fury in Cal and ends in failure.
However, there's another power interested in Cal, one that seems to be using mirrors to keep track of him. When this entity bursts free, it manages to possess Cal... and reveal his secret purpose. The Auphe were once masters of the world, vicious and murderous things who were crushed by more numerous and fearful humans. They want the world back--and Cal is their chosen instrument to achieve that goal.
If he isn't stopped, the Darkling possessing Cal will give the Auphe a chance to change everything, putting the world in the hands of monsters forever.
Unless, that is, Niko and Robin Goodfellow can hunt down Cal in time. But are they willing to do whatever is necessary to save humanity?
Rob Thurman's debut novel has considerable strengths. She constructs some interesting characters in Cal (the narrator), Niko and Robin, and provides some good supporting personalities such as oracle George, paranormal Rafferty, sexy bartender Meredith and the troll-creature in Central Park. The byplay between Cal and Niko feels like the kind of banter that real brothers develop over a lifetime, especially a life punctuated by shared suffering and heartache.
Robin is a compelling individual in a different way, in that he's an immortal without companionship. Thurman offers a new take on a stock character, showing how a life measured in millennia can turn dry and cold without friends. In his own way, Robin takes up Cal's quest as his own, growing into a champion almost against his will (and better judgment).
Cal's incessant wiseguy patter starts to wear after awhile, as nearly everything is a source of snarkiness or sullen resignation, while the Darkling-possessed version differs but little (except that the Darkling knows an awful lot more). On the other hand, Niko's defining characteristic is his mechanistic competence and solidity--which also wears after awhile. He's so darn good, you really wonder if anyone would be this prepared for the unnatural.
On balance, it's a strong first novel and should appeal to readers looking for another dark alley to prowl with a smart-mouthed protagonist.