The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Nightjar is a fantasy novel set largely in an alternate London. Alice Windham, aka wrecking ball, is a young woman who crashes out of her everyday life one morning when a package, addressed to her but labeled "do not open" is left upon her doorstep. From the moment the package is delivered, her life careens out of her control. First the woman who apparently sent her the package dies in her arms, making her late to work, her job becomes a disaster, her dearest friend is hit by a car, and then a mysterious man named Crowley yanks her through a closet door in her childhood bedroom, to an alternate London "for her own safety." In this alternate London, Alice is introduced to a different reality and her magical Väki heritage.
Steeped in Finnish folklore elements, Hewitt has created a world in which each individual has a nightjar, not unlike Pullman's daemons of the His Dark Materials, that reflects the person's soul nature. Alice is the rarest of the rare, an aviarist, an individual who can see the nightjars of others, though never her own. Nightjars betray the emotions of their person, and Alice soon finds she can see if someone is lying or telling the truth, happy or sad, flirtatious or wary, all from observing the nightjars of others. But the central story of the book revolves around Alice searching for the captive nightjar of her beloved friend Jen, who is comatose. Along the way she learns of opposing factions, the Rookery, the Väki group to which she "belongs," the Beaks or Judicium who are part of the Ministry of Defence headed by Sir John Boleyn, and the Fellowship of the Pale Feather, whose mad leader Marianne wants to unleash plagues, who are the children of Death, on London, or more precisely, the Rookery. In further allusion to His Dark Materials, Alice does indeed travel into the land of the dead. But there are many twists and turns to this story, including one that might catch the reader off-guard. Many things are not what they seem to be here, and it seems that everyone wants an aviarist.
As portal fantasies go, The Nightjar is unusual in the capacity of some magic users (House Pellervoinen heritage) to open myriad doors within the Alternate London and our world. The portals are not fixed but entirely created. Each house has its own gifts, but the most interesting for me was that of Lintuvhati, the house of Death and its progenitor, Tuoni.
With a somewhat open ending, there is room for a sequel, which I'd be quite interested to read. Hewitt has created a fascinating world in The Nightjar.
I also listened to the audiobook, which is beautifully narrated by Tamaryn Payne.
CW: There is a scene in the middle of the book when Alice is seeking the aid of a necromancer, that is exceptionally grueling. It involves dog-fighting, and really, even if I tell you it's vital to remember necromancy is involved, it's not going to be any easier to read or listen to.
I received a paper Advanced Review Copy from Tor Books in exchange for an honest review.
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