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A Magic of Nightfall: A Novel of the Nessantico Cycle by S.L. Farrell
Cover Artist: Todd Lockwood
Review by Drew Bittner
DAW Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756405397
Date: 03 March 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Nessantico: the greatest city in the world, and the most beleaguered. Ruled by a capricious and sickly boy and guided by a weak holy man, the heart of the far-flung Holdings is beset on both sides. Her armies fight a war to the west against an equally vast and viciously aggressive empire, while to the east, the rebel Coalition consolidates power behind a forceful new ruler of its own.

Truly, these are dark times for Nessantico... and they may only be getting worse.

This is where A Magic of Nightfall begins. Starting many years after A Magic of Twilight, the previous novel of The Nessantican Cycle by S.L. Farrell, the city of Nessantico is mired in a cold war against the secessionist Coalition and a hot war against the Tehuantin, a mysterious folk whose empire is just starting to fight the Nessanticans.

Kraljiki (emperor) Audric, the infirm son of the bygone and foolish Justi, is only fourteen but is already showing the hubristic ambition of his lineage; he breaks from his trusted regent, Sergei, and takes advice from an unlikely source. Meanwhile, a shattering assassination weakens the Nessanticans and triggers a spiral of events no one could have predicted.

The fallout from this assassination leaves Nessantico vulnerable to its enemies in ways it has not seen in generations. Opportunists seize on this to clamp down hard on the Numetodo, a sect of philosophers who deny that there is religious significance to the working of magic. Their leaders, Karl and Varina, must grapple with personal issues even as they try to discover the truth of the assassination.

Meanwhile, in the Coalition, Allesandra--who should have been heir to the throne of Brezno--must watch as her younger brother Fynn sets the Coalition on a path to war with Nessantico. Her own son Jan follows in Fynn's wake, but there are others who are not happy at this turn of events... including the Coalition's own religious leader, the Archigos Semini.

And lastly, the war against the Tehuantin is fraught with disaster on all fronts as the Nessantican generals fail to adapt to the enemy's innovative tactics and use of an alchemical weapon. But with the rise of an aggressive new warrior chief, the patient and pragmatic 'nahualli' (wizard) Niente foresees only catastrophe the longer their campaign continues.

These diverse threads, told by a dozen or more principal characters, collide with pyrotechnic ferocity as the two wars come home to Nessantico in very different ways. Choices are made, alliances are forged and broken, and the fate of the world hinges upon the outcome of a dire betrayal.

S.L. Farrell delivers a vast, sprawling but riveting novel in A Magic of Nightfall, taking the storyline to an 11 in every way. The plot is complex and intricate, demonstrating masterful skill at the finer points of world building, and the cast is strongly drawn; there is no risk that any given character will be mistaken for another. Each has clearly defined qualities and needs, many of which are in sharp conflict with several others.

The setting, based upon Renaissance Europe, offers some fascinating possibilities. What would have happened if the Europeans had fought against a mighty Aztec empire at the pinnacle of their strength? What does a religious schism mean to a society so heavily dependent upon its faith? And what happens next?

Farrell may well be taking points from George R.R. Martin (who happens to be his editor in the Wild Cards series); Farrell's work compares favorably to Martin's Song of Fire and Ice epic, with equivalent complexity, sophistication and luxurious detail. Fans of one will absolutely want to read the other.

In any event, books like this define the new generation of epic fantasy. Farrell has brought forth a terrific new series, one wherein the reader is kept guessing up to the last page (and beyond). I'm already eager to read the next installment.

Strongly recommended.

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