There’s an author out there who is building something epic: a fantasy universe inspired by the storytelling and worldbuilding of both modern fantasy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nightblade is Garrett Robinson’s debut novel, and he’s continued to add on to his universe in a very MCU-like fashion.
So how does the first entry point into Underrealm hold up?
Nightblade follows the adventures of Loren, a mistreated and abused teen on the cusp of adulthood who decides that enough is enough and takes her shot at roughing it in the world outside her small village. But the nine lands are dangerous, and Loren is inexperienced. Armed only with her wits and the mysterious dagger she stole from her father, Loren fights for survival.
The book’s voice is the most interesting element in this story for me. Many post-modern fantasy novels have shifted to using much of the same language and phrasing of stories set in contemporary settings. And though Nightblade is kind to the modern ear, the narrative style has an in-world voice that alludes to a greater consistency and promises attention to detail in the forthcoming novels of Underrealm.
Robinson teases us with a taste of his worldbuilding in Nightblade. There is magic, nine lands, and secret orders of power, but this novel is intimate and spends most of its time in just one city. Instead of finding clever ways to share the true character of the larger world or info-dumping an encyclopedia entry, Robinson opts to keep his realm mysterious and asks the reader to peel the onion layer-by-layer as his protagonist, Loren, discovers it with you.
As a character, I’m not compelled by Loren. I like her quick wit in a squeeze, but I find her personality generally unappealing as a lead character. This is a personal preference. I think many readers will like her. I also didn’t find the supporting cast to help soften this for me. They would be great supporting characters with a lead I enjoyed, but in the absence of a protagonist I like, there isn’t a character that rescues that element of the story for me.
In a pattern I find too often in fantasy books of this decade, the story ends without a true feeling of finality. And while I understand that the story is only the first book of several, I prefer a book that feels conclusive while setting up its sequel.
I recommend downloading a sample of this book on your Kindle or e-reader of choice and giving this a try (You can actually read it for free by going here: https://underrealm.net/). Nightblade wasn’t a home run for me, but the author is competent and the promise of a larger world in forthcoming novels has sparked my interest.