Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens review

SPFBO: Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

We continue reviewing the SPFBO 6 Finalists. We came to our last finalist review for Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens, chosen by The Fantasy Inn team. I’m sitting this one out, due to not being able to read much these days. Thankfully, I have an awesome team to cover my ass. So, there will be only three scores for this title.

About the Book
Series: –Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publishing: February 2021Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

Take a journey through a world punished by a dark, imprisoned magic. A world where children are given poison. A world where your talent is decided by the state.

A world where reality is breaking down.

When refugee Guyen washes up in the land of his enemy, he knows he will fight, but soon finds himself falling down a well of wonder and improbability.

Can he survive a system designed to oppress him? Can he tame his anger to unleash his potential? Can he see his enemy for what they truly are?

Nether Light is a gritty, heart-wrenching tale of high magic and high stakes, loves lost and friendships gained, set in an oil-lit, 18th century world far, far away.

Review

Jen – 6.5/10

Nether Light was the most interesting, and unique of the SPFBO finalists to me, and because of that, I am still grappling with my thoughts about it. 

Nether Light almost felt like a slice of life, Robin Hobb kind of story. We follow Guyen, as he adjusts to his new life in the city, searching for a way to help his brother who has fallen ill, and has possibly lost his binding… and don’t ask me what the binding is because I am not even sure if I understood it correctly. I felt like I knew while I was reading but trying to explain now…I am at a loss. Eventually, though, the result is madness, and their behaviour can become unpredictably violent, endangering themselves and those around them.

The ideas behind the nether light, the binding, faze, and the simulacra are complicated, interesting and weird, all at once. I loved it for its uniqueness, and the probability angle just makes my mind spin with ideas, even while I wasn’t sure I understood faze or any of it. But that’s alright because Guyen didn’t understand it either and since we are following him, it would matter more I think, if he did, and I still didn’t.

By the end of the story, I felt kind of like I do with math, some of the binding principles and faze were like algebra and just beyond my grasp but I had enough understanding of the basics for me to get by and enjoy the story. 

Parts of this story were brilliant, some of the scenes were striking, sparking my imagination (the dice game scene with the faze shift). Some of the descriptions, I loved (the description of the house of Counters main room). And once you get to know the characters, the underlying humour in places had me chuckling a lot. I enjoyed a lot of this story for those reasons.

Other parts of the story felt needlessly long- like certain scenes were only there to showcase the world that he is in now, they felt so unconnected, and I wondered why they were included. BUT I do admit that a lot of these scenes that I felt that way in while reading, later became relevant for reasons that tie the story together or let Guyen have something that is needed in the final acts, keeping his actions from being pulled from a hat or too easy. 

That said, after processing my thoughts about Nether Light for a while, I realize this story is more put together than it felt while I was reading it. And as you can see, I am kind of back and forth on my thoughts about it. The one thought that I can agree with myself on though, is that it could have used trimming, and lots of it. I think that would have helped the brilliance shine through a little sooner. Nether Light is definitely a go with the flow kind of book and requires some patience for the pay-off. But it was always interesting because we are learning along with Guyen, and I think that’s its strongest quality because without that interest, and wanting to know and understand more about the binding, the faze, and the simulacra, I might have had a hard time making it to the end.

Nick – 6.5/10

First off, let me just say that I really loved the setting and backdrop of Nether Light.  A Gaslamp 18th century setting with magic is such a cool idea.  I’ve read a few series like that before and it is always one of my favorite atmospheres to get lost in.  The idea of a world that is very relatable to our own pre-electricity real-world history, yet has the presence of magic in it, is an interesting dichotomy.  So right off the bat, I knew that I was at least going to like this story from that regard.

Nether Light has a gradual and calculated buildup for the first third or so of the book as we are introduced to the main character Guyen and the various secondary characters.  Once the story kicks in though, I found it both enjoyable and interesting.  I did have a slight qualm with character development as I felt this took a bit of a backseat to the worldbuilding at times.  It kept me from really loving this book as much as I would have liked, unfortunately.  I still felt the story was solid if not lengthy, with the main conflict a dark and brutal one that at times was uncomfortable to read, but compelling at the same time.

Getting back to the main character, Guyen’s tale is one fraught with lots of self-introspection and also events that leave him tested and scarred.  At over 600 pages, this is more of a slow-burn type of fantasy and although I was intrigued at times, I also felt that it was just a bit slow going for my taste in various stretches.  That being said, if you have the patience to stick with this giant tome, you will be rewarded, it just takes some time to get there.   

In the end, I did like Nether Light as it challenged me and wasn’t the usual light and fluffy fantasy read.  It definitely makes me want to read more from this author and I hope to do so in the near future.  A good book that has some flashes of brilliance and moments that really shine, albeit very very dark.  Not for the squeamish, that’s for sure.

Peter – 8.5/10

This is my final review for SPFBO 6, and it has been a real blast as this has been my first year.  We have one final book to review and this is Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens.

Nether Light is a book with strong ups and downs, we follow a character called Guyen who is a refugee in a foreign land.  We learn about the world through Guyen, as the book is primarily told through his point of view.  This is a really good point about the book, Shaun immerses the reader into this world and you feel Guyen’s bitterness and resentfulness for his situation.

This also led to the bits of the book that I didn’t really enjoy, there is a lot to take in and Stevens likes his details.  This does lead to the plot wandering a bit, it lagged a bit and this is easily the reason why I didn’t enjoy this as I thought I would. What makes up for it though is Shaun’s vivid writing, and also some fantastic secondary character work, with my favourite being Mist, a sword-wielding mystery.  Also, the discovery is another key point of the book I enjoyed, Shaun takes you through this wonderfully created secondary world and awesome urban setting in a great way.  The limitless probability-based magic system is one of the more interesting ones that I have ever come across, and the dark atmospheric city made for some pretty awesome scenes and reading.

Nether Light is a slow burn epic fantasy novel and there really is much to enjoy here, in fact, this really ticked so many boxes for me.  The pace can be slow and the plot did wander, but with any book, this can happen and the level of detail in the writing is wonderful and vivid.  An aspect of any book that can make it or break it for me is secondary characters, this is a book full of wonderful characters, a fascinating rules magic system, and some great locations.

Our Judgement
Jen: 6.5Nick: 6.5Peter: 8.5Timy: X

Our overall rating for Nether Light: 7/10

Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens

For more SPFBO content, please visit my SPFBO 6 Finals page!

Timy, also known as Queen Terrible Timy hails from a magical land called Hungary, born and raised in its capital city, Budapest. Books have been her refuge and best friends ever since she can remember along with music. She might be a tiny bit addicted to the latter. Timy is the owner and editor of Queen's Book Asylum. Timy is also the co-owner/manager of Storytellers On Tour, a book tour organizing service dedicated to indie SFF authors. In her free time (hah!) she likes to scribble things, collect panda stuff, go to concerts and travel.

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