Thank you to Tor Books for the e-galley of The Rookery.
As a child of the 90s, I have been swearing my literary allegiance to Harry Potter for years. Because of this, I have spent a reasonable amount of time chasing the high that reading each of J.K. Rowling’s books gave me when it comes to dark academia and fantasy novels set in Europe. Deborah Hewitt’s Nightjar series has to be the first time in a long while that I’ve gotten really close to that feeling.
Set in between alternate versions of London, Hewitt’s series follows Alice Wyndham, who is plagued by a life-long hallucination of birds. Made to believe that these manifestations are simply her mind’s way of coping with past trauma, Alice tries extra hard to focus on being “normal.”
Unfortunately for her, this plan falls to pieces when her best friend is involved in a hit-and-run accident. On this day, Crowley, a mysterious visitor from another London better known as The Rookery, shows up to tell Alice that she is an aviarist and in danger.
As an aviarist, Alice’s ability to see someone’s nightjar means that she can identify the person’s “soul” and can pull their secrets from that person’s soul bird at will. This aspect of magical lore is carefully crafted to allow Alice to pull secrets from those around her right when the plot is stalling a bit, and it seems the author is hitting a wall. However, it also helps in giving the world-building of The Rookery a touch of uniqueness that makes Hewitt’s story stand out. The story begins when Alice sets out to find her best friend’s nightjar
The cool thing about The Nightjar series is that it not only uses magic in a way that I’ve never seen before, but it also creates a cozy atmosphere in its alternate setting of The Rookery and its cast of characters. For example, the slow burn romance that percolates between Alice and Crowley is believable and naturally written. Character interactions like this meant that even when nothing happened in Hewitt’s duology, I was engrossed in the characters’ lives and the world Hewitt built.
This ability to be content and at ease in a series that’s full of murder, backstabbing, and mystery can only be chalked up to Hewitt’s ability to tell a well-crafted story. Hewitt goes full out in her plot of murdering cults, long lost children of “purebred” magical bloodlines, and the quest to outrun death.
The only problem is that The Rookery, which is the series finale, leaves so many things unfinished. Where I loved the quirkiness of Alice and her “found family” in The Nightjar, the one-liners and banter between her and her friends and side adventures the gang of friends went on in the sequel felt as if it was a plot device by Hewitt to keep readers from noticing that loose ends weren’t being tied up as neatly as they should be.
In fact, whole plot points get thrown to the wayside in The Rookery. At certain points in the second novel, it almost felt as if Hewitt purposely left out chunks of backstory that were needed to tie her story up. This lack of closure breaks my heart since The Nightjar was a solid opener.
I do want to give major props to Hewitt for her originality, though. For once, I felt that the red herring an author throughout about who was the bad guy in a series was actually good enough that I was flabbergasted when the reveal came out. This is saying something since after years of reading fantasy books, being thrown off by a book or surprised by an original concept is something I have deeply been craving. Because of this, I tip my hat off to Hewitt and would highly recommend this series to others.
If you have read The Nightjar duology before and are looking for another original fantasy series, I’d recommend the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty.
Like Hewitt, Chakraborty tells the story of a young woman, Nahri, who has her life shaken by the realization that she has magical powers and is a part of another world other than the one she grew up in. The only thing is that the Daevabad Trilogy takes place in a desert setting in the Middle East instead of Europe.
Chakraborty tells her story from three points of view following the main characters Dara, Nahri, and Ali. Dara is a disgraced warrior who has been enslaved for years and ends up trying to right the wrongs of his past throughout the series. Nahri is a con-woman and a healer from Cairo who longs for a family and connection to her past, which she’s forgotten. And Prince Alizayd, who is my favorite character, is the youngest prince of the tyrant King Ghassan of Daevabad.
Throughout her series, Chakraborty did a fantastic job crafting a world with complex characters and a fascinating magic system. Each of her characters felt like a person you would want to know in real life. And, the overall atmosphere of political intrigue, action-packed scenes, and magical world-building makes it obvious why Netflix has ordered a series based on the Daevabad books.
If you’re a fan of slow-burn reads, the first book, The City of Brass, will draw you in. If you’re like me and prefer up-tempo books, you’re going to really hit your reading stride with the second novel, The Kingdom Of Copper, where Chakraborty starts to lay the foundation for an awesome conclusion in The Empire Of Gold.
Have you all read Hewitt or Chakraborty’s books?