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 the story of Guyen, a young immigrant trying to make his way in a country where his people are hated as job-stealers and feared as terrorists. Fitting into the well-established speculative fiction tradition of exploring social issues through otherworldly narratives, the prejudice and scapegoating inflicted on Guyen’s people reflect problems faced by migrants throughout the real world. Guyen himself turns out to have unique and highly prized magical abilities and, shortly after his twin brother is seriously injured in an accident, and he is admitted to a prestigious university in the nation’s capital. There, like many real-world students, he juggles work, academics, and a personal life complicated by his peers’ nationalistic hatred, all while secretly trying to find a cure for his brother’s malady—a life-threatening condition with magical origins.

Our Thoughts

Unfortunately, Nether Light was not the book for this group of judges, and most of the team didn’t finish it. On the plus side, the magic system based on manipulation of mathematical probabilities was fascinating, and the author shone when describing Guyen’s experiences as he learned to control his powers, and one judge thought the story was engaging and there was a good twist at the end. However, a combination of slow pacing, narrative bloat, and an unlikeable protagonist kept most of the team from reaching the magic-wielding scenes, which mostly come in the latter half of the novel. In addition, the text was filled with malapropisms, grammatical errors, and strange constructions that were probably meant to be poetic but were simply awkward. Multiple narrative gaps and inconsistencies compounded our displeasure. In short, we felt this book needed some substantial editorial review and revision.

Sadly, most of all, we disliked Guyen, finding him too much of an “angry young man” whose choices are ruled almost entirely by his emotions. At the same time, he has very little agency. He falls into trouble constantly and falls out of it due to either sheer luck or someone stepping in to rescue him. We found these interventions highly implausible because Guyen is so rude and unfriendly to everyone. He behaves with petulance and bitterness toward his social superiors and treats those lower on the social ladder with callous indifference. This sort of behavior is endemic to his society (almost no one acts any better), but Guyen’s lack of empathy for others made it impossible for us to sympathize with his troubles.

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Our judges are A. M. Justice, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to A. M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).


By A. M. Justice

A. M. Justice is an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, a freelance science writer, and an amateur astronomer, scuba diver, and once and future tango dancer. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. You can follow her on Twitter @AMJusticeWrites.

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