I posted a review originally on Amazon for Matt Spencer’s The Night and the Land.
Consider this the extended version.
Brutal. Visceral. Gory. Possibly even squick-inducing.
Yeah, I’d use all those words to describe Matt Spencer’s novel, The Night and the Land. I’d throw in well-written, keenly paced, and high octane as well.
Spencer’s tale is very much a coming of age tale, following the twin threads of Sally and Rob, two teenagers who are more than they appear. So yes, of course they come from two opposing sides of an ongoing Cold War that on occasion flares hot. So yes, of course there are secrets being kept. And yes, of course, the two defy social expectations to stay together, despite all the pressures seeking to drive them apart.
This isn’t a bloodless tale, however. Spencer steers straight into the horror: the horror of juxtaposition (teenagers interrogating a victim by probing his exposed brain), the horror of being out of control (Rob losing himself to his instincts), the stomach turning nausea of combat, the terror of your parents being monsters and what that does to their children. Spencer has a fine eye for combat and the terrible things that it does. He also doesn’t shy away from the collateral damage that can be inflicted in a war.
Spencer, as a practicing fencer and martial artist, has a fine eye toward how action flows through a piece, giving enough detail but without it interfering with the flow of the narrative. His characters are not static, trading blow for blow, but he keeps his action (mostly) within the realm of reality.
He also does a fantastic job of painting scenes in broad enough strokes to give the reader a clear picture without getting bogged down in an infodump. Most importantly, it’s clear that he has a clear idea as to how his world works and integrates with the real world.
My biggest complaint from this book is that it leaves too many questions unanswered. I understand that these questions could well be answered in the following novels, but I would have liked to see more revealed here than he chose. That is my personal preference of course, and I well understand the need to leave hooks to get readers to pick up the next book. What, exactly, are the Crimbone? What, precisely, do the Spirelights hope to accomplish? What terrible thing is Rob’s familiar going to get up to next? How exactly do they move from one world to the next anyway?
My secondary complaint would be a certain character dual-wielding knives. It’s an overdone cliché, and not nearly as effective as writers everywhere would have you believe.
In short, I’d recommend this book, especially to people who enjoy writers such as Richard Kadrey, Jim Butcher, and Kim Harrison.
You can buy it here.