REVIEW: Awake in the Night Land by John C. Wright

Friday , 24, October 2014 14 Comments

awake-in-the-night-land“Awake in the Night Land” is my favorite book I’ve read this year, my favorite of Mr. Wright’s, and easily the best-adapted parallel work that I can think of — a lollapalooza of fan fiction. Its Promethean characters are rousing, its Lovecraftian monsters are horrifying, and its Tolkien-esque prose help make it stand as one of the greats among the Dying Earth genre.

And dying it is. We begin circa AD twenty one million, and the text tells us plainly we are seven million years before the extinction of mankind. What’s left of humanity survives in the Last Redoubt – a pyramid cities stacked into cities seven miles high – situated on the last source of living energy (the ‘earth-current’). Outside of the citadel is the Night Land, a hellish, hostile, and gloaming landscape full of Night-Wolves, Watching Things, abhumans, Behemoths, Walkers, and evil Powers beyond reckoning. The tales told here center around characters who for some tragic, foolhardy, and brave reason must leave the invulnerable redoubt and venture into the Night Land. Anyone who leaves carries a suicide capsule, to escape death, torture, and worse. So stark is the setting and so heroic the characters traversing it that Wright makes Frodo walking across Mordor look like child’s play.

There are a few passages here of such supernal poetry that I believe they were divinely inspired; if not, they at least point in that general heavenly direction.  Either way, they will stick with me for a long time. In one, a brave man battles an abhuman in the black-pitted vesuvian landscape of the Night Land, facing certain death (and worse), when a far-off cry renews his hope:

“At that moment , I heard a murmur like the roar of the sea . To my left, miles away, the Last Redoubt was visible, balcony upon balcony shining, a wall of light. People had been watching my duel. When I had first lit my weapon and struck at the first abhuman, men, women, and children standing in the pyramid windows, or over their telescopes, must have cried out. Perhaps only a gasp, or a word of hope, but, amplified by a million voices, it became a strong noise on the wind of the world; only now had that cry reached me. How that sound filled my heart! I saw doubt twist the sneering muzzle of the abhuman; his eyes were troubled.”

The other memorable passage is along the same lines and comes from the same story, but I’ll leave you the joy of reading it in context. Each one is a variation on the same primordial theme: “The Light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Wright has taken William Hope Hodgen’s work (of which I am not familiar) and constructed a rich, textured story that is as delicate as it is epic. Of what I’ve read, this is without a doubt his most masterful.

RATING: 10 out of 10

14 Comments
  • mistaben says:

    This entire volume is packed with moments that stick with the reader long after the book is closed, yet some moments tower over all the others. The second scene you reference is one of these. By the stirring in my soul that reading it or even recalling it produces, I must emphatically agree that it carries something decidedly Divine.

  • Scooter says:

    Absolutely.

    Another thing I’ve noticed with the Castalia House books so far is the strength of the endings. “Awake in the Night” having one of the best.

  • Ryan says:

    This is an amazing follow up to William Hope Hodgson’s Night Land. I was left wanting more after reading Hodgson, and this offered a richly developed exploration of Hodgson’s world at a micro and macro level.

  • Russell says:

    The sum exceeds the parts, it’s a masterpiece made from smaller masterpieces.

  • Frank Manning says:

    I really liked this book too, but I’m just commenting to get on the CH mailing list.

  • Scott Renner says:

    I also liked the book, and would like to be on the CH mailing list.

  • John says:

    I agree with Frank and Scott and am commenting for the same reason.

  • Richard Sharpe says:

    Comment

  • Jeff Howard says:

    First book I read by Mr. Wright. Fantastic read. I had to do a bit of research on the background I was not familiar with the original work.

    Also, please add me to the CH mailing list.

    Thank you

  • LostSailor says:

    Awake in the Night was my first introduction to the work of both Mr. Wright and Hodgson. Awake in the Nightland is incredibly evocative and haunting even months after reading it, improving upon the original material while maintaining the same tone and style.

  • Currently on the third story in Awake in the Nightland. Superb so far. Of the first two stories I still prefer Awake in the Night. I know that Mr. Wright tried to end the second novella on something of an up note, but I just didn’t find it as inspiring as the first one. Still a truly excellent read.

  • That final story was bizarre.

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