Something from the Nightside (Nightside, #1) by Simon R. Green
I didn't know if I still had it in me to be really dangerous, but I thought so. It's like knocking someone off a bike with a baseball bat; you never really lose the knack.
For the last five years, John Taylor has lived in exile in the London most of us would recognise, scraping a living as a private detective. And now a client wants him to go back to the place he came from, and swore he'd never go back to, and she's made him an offer he can't really refuse.
That place is of course the titular Nightside, a Neverwheresque "london under", where all the ghosts, ghouls, myths and legends wash up, an always existing, never existing, really unreal "other place. John was born there, his father a normal human and his mother, not so much, a fact which drove his father to drink himself to death when he found out. Alone on the streets at age 10, John dragged himself up to adulthood, until something happened that made him leave, swearing it was for good.
I saw myself as a knight-errant... but the damsel in distress stabbed me in the back, my sword shattered on the dragon's hide, and my grail turned out to be the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
This is a re-read review, so this first book gets a little of the benefit of hindsight, both positive and negative. On the one hand, I know the writing, already strong in this first book, improves immensely later in the series. On the other hand, even for a first book in a series, it's so darn good.
John Taylor can be a little overpowered, but then, he is clearly a major player in the world, and everyone knows it--except he doesn't know why, and that scares him. A lot of people keep trying to kill him when he goes home, some of them he can deal with, some of them he needs a little help, and he's not sure who is sending them. It makes for an interesting setup: Imagine someone like Arthur Pendragon getting to adulthood without having pulled the sword from the stone, but all the other players in the world already know who he is and would like to prevent him ever finding that sword, or the results of it.
So the bad first, and there's really only two things: It's a little expository in places. Taylor has a tendency to sit his client down in a cafe or bar, and explain the universe to her. Clearly she makes a handy stand-in for us, the gentle readers, but even she remonstrates "You're lecturing me again". And it can be a little repetitive. We know where we are, so no need to keep saying "Things are different here" "What, you mean, in the Nightside?". I can promise both these faults are remedied further along in the series. And that's really about it, it's a pretty solid read.
The good: A fabulous world, which we mostly don't entirely understand, but which yet feels familiar. The Nightside is the old magic that lies under the world, where it's always 3 AM, and where anything and everything can happen. The characters are well drawn in suprisingly few words, you get a sense of especially John right from the start, and of Joanna, the client, Suzie Shooter and Eddie the Razor. There's a twist (well a couple, but one in particular) that really knocks you over out of left field the first time you read this book. And the ending is, for me at least, entirely satisfactory.
Hopefully the quotes give you a sense of Green's style. It's sort of Gaimanesque worldbuliding crossed with a Jim Butcher style snark, but an entirely different writing style. Like the Dresden books though, this book is by far the least of the series. Unlike the Dresden books, even this first, least book, is really really good, and I highly recommend it.
Joanna and I left Suzie Shooter intimidating the entire Fortress through the sheer force of her appalling personality, and headed for Blaiston Street.