Skip to main content

Review of Silent Knife by David Nurenberg

I've actually got a bit of history with this one. Full disclosure, this novel, released last year on the White Wolf imprint, was something I've read a few times in the past few years. I've was a beta reader on one of the early drafts and I reread another version of the novel put up as a serial on the White Wolf website.



It's inspiring to see the book finally reach print, especially after all of the various versions appear to have improved and refined the story.

The plot of Silent Knife is steeped in the mythology of the World of Darkness, the fictional noir universe of White Wolf's many role-playing games. Silent Knife focuses more or less on the Masquerade, the treacherous and Byzantine politics of the Vampire world. Ariadne, the eponymous protagonist, is a relative newcomer to this world, changed into a vampire barely a decade previous, negotiating the relentless demands of her Prince, Liliane, during a full-scale rebellion. The leader of the rebellion, Roarke, possesses arcane powers unusual for the undead and legions of followers eager to upset the balance of Liliane's vision of a New Jerusalem. Although young by immortal standards, Ariadne is an important warrior for her Prince, possessing rare talent with the blade, and a predator's instincts for the hunt. As the body-count rises, Ariadne stumbles upon a remnant of her own old life, a man named Andrei she once loved. Even though the mortal who loved Andrei is long dead, she risks everything to be with him, to dream of some better life outside of Boston.

Nurenberg is a big fan of China Mieville and the most compelling parts of this novel stem from a similar impulse towards detail and world-building. Silent Knife's alter-Boston is a place invested with Lovecraftian cosmic horrors and the hidden machinations of powerful forces. Like Mieville, Nurenberg doesn't just want to tell a story. He wants to bring his metropolis to life, filling it with hordes of characters, living and dead, and weaving a grand spectacle of blood, sacrifice, and flawed redemption. I am not a big fan of fiction set within pre-defined universes but I appreciated Nurenberg's attempt to breathe new life into the genre. He chose atypical characters as vampires: the obsese, mordant Bourne is particularly vivid, a former labor organizer, embraced as a kind of sadistic joke by his philosopher sire, condemned to see history's pattern repeat again and again, without having the ability to change any of it.

This is the overall theme of the book, characters trapped a few steps outside of redemption, lurching towards acceptance. The tragedy of the story is that each character seeks that redemption from the same thing most likely to condemn them. Ariadne regains some measure of humanity by reigniting an affair with Andrei, but that humanity dooms both of them in a world that feeds off of mortals. Bourne can't help but long for Ariadne even though his unrequited desire for her, serves only to drive him deeper into fury and revenge. Liliane's vision of a shining city on the hill leads to unspeakable sacrifices, and ceaseless carnage.

While I wish the novel was a few dozen pages and one or two sub-plots shorter, overall I think this is a fresh and seductive portrait of Boston noire. Like the city, it's a tapestry at once intimate and personal, but also panoramic and cold. 
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…