I’m an epic fantasy girl at heart, but I can often be tempted into the realms of urban fantasy by a mysterious alternate London…
Book: The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy provided free of charge at the MCM Blogger Brunch. All opinions my own.
Content warning: Animal abuse (dogfighting).
I didn’t know what to expect from The Nightjar, and I’m glad I went into it without knowing too much, because it’s a really interesting mix of genres: a little bit urban fantasy, a little bit magical realism, a smidgen of Victorian gothic and a whole lot of death mythology. Alice, our main character, has seen visions of birds since she was a child, but dismisses them as something to be suppressed and ignored. After she receives a mysterious parcel from a dying stranger, and her best friend is attacked and left in a coma, Alice meets a man who can explain why she sees the invisible birds, and introduces her to the Rookery, an unseen London filled with magic and danger. From there, Alice’s day only seems to get worse.
The Rookery is fascinating: a London made of buildings that have been destroyed in our world. Alice’s first introduction to it is finding Buckingham Palace gone, and replaced with Goring House, which stood on that site before the palace. It’s simultaneously very familiar and very strange, and Alice is quite understandably a bit of a fish out of water as she tries to find her feet and get to grips with her magic. The birds she has always seen are the guardians of people’s souls, and Alice is not only able to see them, but also to interact with them. In order to save her best friend’s life, she must train in her aviarist powers until she is able to walk into Death’s realm and save Jen’s soul bird. It’s a big ask, and Alice understandably struggles with both the technicalities and the overarching responsibility. I’ve seen some reviews saying that she’s useless or annoying for asking questions and not understanding, but I thought her reactions were pretty realistic, given the enormity of her world-view being turned upside down! I do think that Alice’s confusion slowed the book down, but I don’t think the pace suffered too much, as it allowed us to really see how the Rookery ticked, and I appreciated the depth of detail we were given about everything.
This is a long book, but it’s one to savour, as there’s a lot going on, and it’s tightly packed with details that you need to pay attention to. I thought that the settings and the world-building were really strong, and I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Houses of the Rookery, and particularly the description of the land of Death, which was gorgeously described. I do enjoy reading about trips to the Underworld, so I found this section of the book really enthralling. I would have loved to explore more of the Rookery – I wanted to see inside all the Houses! – but that’s just how interesting the world is. This would make a gorgeous film, just saying…
If you’re in the mood for a dark, intricate, magical read, then The Nightjar should be right up your street. Four out of five cats!