Nick is unlike any other character I have read about. He's dark and fierce and not without humour. But he's also cold and distant, two qualities rare in a narrator, which makes this book an unusual read. He lacks the gamut of human emotions and is difficult to warm to, but his love and dedication to Alan, and his dry humour, give Nick a painful humanity. He's also a bit of a spunk, a deadly fighter and a skilled dancer. Definitely crush material for girls who like bad boys. (*cough* me *cough*)
The book opens on a typical day in the Ryves family: magical attacks, sword-fighting and a kitchen full of ravens. The set-up is witty and evocative, immediately setting the tone for this dark and often humorous novel. Nerdy, awkward Jamie and stubborn Mae are perfect foils for Nick's I-don't-care-leave-me-alone attitude: they need his help, and while Alan is swayed by their desperation and Mae's pretty face, Nick couldn't give a damn.
Chances were, after all, that whatever problem the pair had was imaginary. He turned the engine on. It roared into life, and he pulled away fast from the side of the river where the body was sinking. Imaginary problems. Must be nice.
For most of the middle of this book, I felt like I was being kept at arm's length, partly due to Nick and his inability to have any depth of feeling, or reflect on why certain things are the way they are. The bizarre, frightening relationship he has with his mother, for instance, he doesn't question or elaborate on. The distance Nick keeps between the other characters and the reader also affect the writing. I persisted with this book through large sections that I felt little connection with because I was so taken with the opening. A weaker book I would have given up on, as sections of the narrative are downright drab:
Nick did not care what Gerald's theory might be. He was busy calling himself a hundred kinds of fool for putting down the sword. It was becoming more and more obvious that they were outmatched. The magicians had tricks none of them were prepared for. The magicians had clearly planned this. Nick should have let Jamie be a casualty and got out of there. Jamie doesn't matter at all, not compared to what else Nick might lose.This summarising style invades even the most fast-paced scenes and left me distracted. Being able to guess the first two twists from a mile off didn't bode well either. I do feel that less energy was spent making the middle of the book as interesting and witty to read as the beginning and end.
But. By the time I finished this book--which ends with an almighty BANG--I realised the reasons for such an unusual and distant narrative. The relationship between Nick and Alan is poignant and bittersweet, and makes this story a triumph of humanity in the face of overwhelming evil.