Simon Green, Something from the Nightside (Ace, 2003)

The Mail Room here at Green Man is interesting, to say the least. As Craig Clarke noted recently, he's "been passing the time cleaning up" — no small feat, I'm here to tell you. There's dust here that's older than I am. But that's to be expected in a structure as ancient as this one. What you see reviewed here is but a fraction of what comes in, as we do not review everything that we receive by a long shot. Craig politely didn't mention the piles of odd things that are waiting for an editor to look at — DVDs from Shanachie, galleys of novels and collections from the Penguin Group and Harper Collins, CDs from Green Linnet and Northside, and odd things that defy describing here. (Go ahead — ask the editors what the weirdest thing is that they've seen!) What's really interesting are the galleys of forthcoming books such as A Circle of Cats, the de Lint and Vess tale that Mia Nutick reviewed for us. Which brings me to Something from the Nightside, a new novel from Simon Green, author of one of my favorite novels of recent years, Drinking Midnight Wine. It came in this week, and I grabbed it immediately, as I've enjoyed everything that this author has has done over the years. I was not disappointed — this is among the best of his works!

Green says this is the first of a new series. He has said on another Web site that he just finished "the third of the Nightside books, Nightingale's Lament. The first of these books will be out from Ace in the summer, and the other two at four month intervals. I hope people like these, as I want to write at least three more." Now I can hear you saying, "No, not another fantasy series!" Well, truth to be known, more often than not I'd be in agreement with you — truly good series are rare indeed. One of the best series to date that I've been fortunate to read has been Charles de Lint's sprawling Newford series, which has been told in the form of novels, novellas, children's tales, and even video. Simon Green's Hawk & Fisher series certainly is another great series, and Drinking Midnight Wine cries out for a sequel! But Something from the Nightside takes a premise similar to the one developed by Neil Gaiman in his Neverwhere novel of a hidden London (underground in Neverwhere, at the heart of the City here). The good folk of everyday London do not venture into the utter weirdness of Nightside. The level of reality there is so different that the moon itself is closer to Nightside than it is to the London that surrounds Nightside!

(Digression of sorts here. The BBC production of Neverwhere is due for release on DVD soon. Look for the review of it here! Actually, this wasn't a digression, as Something from the Nightside would make a splendid if expensive television series on premium cable!)

Something from the Nightside differs from Neverwhere in several meaningful ways. The first is that this is a mystery series, something that the Gaiman novel really wasn't. Yes, there's a mystery at the core of that novel, but the novel itself is clearly within the fantasy/urban genre and not within the fantasy/mystery genre. The richly textured background is ofttimes the story in Neverwhere, but never here. Now, I admit John Taylor is not a private detective per se, but he has a knack for finding lost things — as did Orient in Emma Bull's urban fantasy novel, Finder, but he acts and dresses like a private dick straight out of some noir novel. For pity's sake, he wears a long leather jacket and lives in his crummy office! That's why a lovely but brittle woman has hired him to descend into the Nightside, a realm in the center of London where Hell itself can look good by comparison and the sun never shines. Literally never shines, as it's always night here.

If any of you remember John Ostrander's Grimjack series, which largely took place in Cynosure, the city where all realities meet, you'll see a remarkable resemblance here to that series. Even this quote by Grimjack could be about Nightside: "I bust people out of prison, hunt down vampires, fight alien gods — all the fun jobs people are too squeamish or too polite to do themselves. Call me a mercenary. Call me an assassin. Call me a villain. I am all that and more." No, John Taylor is not like the Grimjack character, but he is not entirely human either — born of a mortal father, a possibly immortal mother, and possessed of the ability to scare the the Hell out of anyone, he's feared by almost everyone in Nightside — more than a few of whom want to kill him.

But for John Taylor, who's been living in London Above, there's no place like home ... even if it makes Cynosure look friendly. And like that City, past, present and future converge at times. Not to mention that the time stream itself can be changed at will. A while back, John Taylor got sick of lies, betrayals and death waiting at every turn of the cards from friend and foe alike. Leaving Nightside, Taylor set up shop as a private detective in the other London and for five years lived there as a not-terribly-successful last resort for those who needed a person who wouldn't ask any questions. (That might work in London, but not in Nightside, where "trust no one" is much better way to stay alive.) One day a woman by the name of Joanna Barrett, a most proper and well-heeled client, asks for his help in locating her runaway daughter in the Nightside. Unable to refuse a lady in distress, John travels to the Nightside, a place he's perversely happy to have a reason to return to, because it is home and he finds everyday London to be boring. Of course, it would be boring compared to Nightside!

Watch closely for bits of Green's other series to pop up in this series — I spotted the Street of Gods from his Hawk & Fisher series, and there was a passing but definite reference to the Deathstalker series. I did tell you that it had an eerie resemblance to Cynosure; like John Gaunt, aka one of the Grimjacks in Ostrander's story, Taylor gets hurt, bleeds a lot, and recovers very, very quickly. And you'll find the cast of secondary characters, such as the immortal assassin, Razor Eddie, to be well drawn. This first novel at two hundred and thirty pages is obviously intended to introduce us to Nightside, so it'll be interesting to see how Nightside develops in future novels. If myth and reality, past and future, good and evil, can all coexist here as they do, it could very interesting for John Taylor and his clients!

Simon Green has written a novel that's a truly quick read and makes you want to visit his world again and again. For though it appears that all are lost who enter this place, even Nightside allows for the possibility of Good to happen. Which means that those who want to can defeat evil, as it appears John Taylor does, at least for a brief time. But do keep in mind that nothing — including Taylor himself — is quite what it seems to be, so trust at no one and nothing not to change in some way!

[Cat Eldridge]