A Hard Day's Knight (Nightside) - Simon R. Green

~~Moved from GR~~


A Hard Day's Knight

by Simon R Green


I've always liked hardboiled detective novels and fantasy, so I was thrilled to discover urban fantasy, the genre that unified mean streets with magic. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that it's turned out to be surprisingly difficult to find a series that comes close to capturing the imagination of fantasy, the wit, humour, and cynicism of detective noir, and the humanity and character required for a truly fantastic read.  Simon Green's Nightside tends to be recommended to fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and from the trenchcoat-wearing protagonist to the snark to the hidden world of magic, you can certainly see the similarities.  However, I've found my forays into the Nightside rather disappointing. I started with this book--rather late in the series, but I was hoping that this would mean that the character development and story flow were no longer rough around the edges.  The world was fun and imaginative and the concept was engaging, but I couldn't relate to characters and found it simply impossible to suspend enough disbelief to get into the plot.

John Taylor, from the Nightside, is the hero.
You can tell.
He has a magic sword and he wears a white trenchcoat.
So what if he kills tons of people with no remorse in the first 30 pages and decides to use their bodies to grow fruit trees?
White duster.
Magic sword.
Seriously worthy good guy, clearly.

Although I was constantly told John and his homicidal honeybun, Susie Shooter, were the good guys, from the first few pages, where he gets hundreds of people murdered in his front yard (he has landmines buried there), I lost my ability to empathize with him. It seems to me that in hunting the monsters, Taylor has become one, writing his own rulebook and enforcing it with blood. This is a book late in the series, after John has apparently undergone character development. Although it's possible he started out with more humanity, I rather doubt it. When Taylor runs into old acquaintances, they pretty universally want to murder him. I can sympathize. My issue with him is not that he is an antihero, but that he seems to to totally lack introspection. Might seems to make right in both the world and the protagonist's moral compass. When the characters show no humanity and let others die without a second thought, why should I care about them?

Since our good guy murders without compunction, our bad guys have to outdo him by (literally) bathing in blood, decorating their castles with flayed human bodies, running around stark naked with only blood and gore to cover them, threatening to destroy the world for fun, etc. I'm a wimp when it comes to gore, so I found the pages and pages of lovingly detailed descriptions of these atrocities absolutely repulsive and unreadable. Unfortunately, my disgust probably carried over in my evaluation of the characters. I found them unconvincing, from the knight who switches back and forth between fighting for God to making deals with the antichrist to the cheerful baddies who destroy universes for the giggles. I felt the story lacked subtlety and character development and could muster neither sympathy nor curiosity for the fate of the world. Part of the problem came from the ease with which Taylor defeated his opponents. Taylor is a complete badass and who can defeat any opponent without any trouble (although, unfortunately for my psyche, not without a great deal of graphically described mess). No villain lasts more than 30 pages after the first mention of them, and no battle is even particularly tough for him. Taylor takes on (and takes out) a couple of antichrists in the space of thirty pages. His opponents were simply too easy for him to defeat for the story to hold my interest.

The world itself is quite entertaining and engaging. Basically, the Nightside is Terry Pratchett's Ankh Morpork on steroids. And maybe LSD. It's a mishmash of every sci-fi and fantasy trope out there, thrown together in a crass, crazy, urban maelstrom. The descriptions are fun and relatively creative, and although I'll pass on the "variety bar" where the vampire waiters eat the customers, I would absolutely love a bonsai dinosaur.

Overall, I think my stomach was simply not strong enough for the series and my tastes were ill-fitted to the story. I felt that John Taylor, rather than being complex and sympathetic, was simply an action hero superman who ran around killing anyone who disagreed with him. Rather than messing around with all that soppy stuff like character development and moral ambiguity, the story tended to focus on bloodbaths, battle, and constant action. Perhaps I simply chose the wrong story in the series to try, but I think that I'll keep my fictional rambles out of the Nightside.