(Complete list of books in the series at the end of this post)
This is my first attempt at reviewing a series so I picked one that’s in the mid-range of my favorites. I’ve read the Nightside series a few times over, but I don’t revere it as I do the Deathstalker or the Forest Kingdom series by the same author. Deathstalker has been previously reviewed, see here. The Nightside series, however, is set very much in this world, in a secret city deep within the bowels of London. In the Nightside it’s always 3 a.m and nothing ever sleeps. It’s where Gods and monsters go to make deals or to fade into oblivion in Shadows Fall. Heaven, hell, and the other major players hold no sway in the Nightside, by ancient compact. It has the best clubs, the craziest shows, and the very best addictions. You can find anything in the Nightside when you know where to look, although it might find you first and turn you into a glorified glove-puppet. From the sacred to the profane, it’s all there in the Nightside, the secret underbelly and rotten heart of the world. Or, in the author’s own words, Soho in the 1970′s.
The Nightside series is hard-boiled pulp fantasy with a gonzo sense of humour at its best, even if the jokes do occasionally fall somewhat flat. Green’s major influences for the Nightside series are obvious, pop sci-fi/fantasy TV shows from both sides of the Atlantic, the Twilight Zone, Dr, Who, Sapphire and Steel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Urban Gothic, and the like. He likes to say that he’s writing the James Bond of fantasy, although his Secret Histories series is much closer to that (The Man With The Golden Torc, From Heaven With Love, The Spy Who Haunted Me…well, you get the idea) than the Nightside series.
The Nightside series is populated by characters who will go down, in or out of history, as some of the most entertaining in pulp fantasy. Aside from the primary protagonist and (current) champion of the Nightside John Taylor (more on him later), there’s Shotgun Suzie, the big bosomed psychopathic woman (there’s one in every Simon R. Green series) a.k.a ‘Oh Christ it’s her! Run!’ and later on John’s love interest; John’s perky little teenage secretary Cathy, whom he rescues in Book I: Something From The Nightside. Taylor’s closest friend Alex Morrissey, the bad-tempered owner and bartender of Strangefellows, the oldest bar in the world, who thinks he’s a descendant of King Arthur but is in fact the descendant of someone far more evil and sinister. Get upto Book V (Paths Not Taken) and you’ll find out whom; it’s Arthur’s best ally and worst enemy. (Hint: It’s not Mordred or Morgan La Fae); the necromantic Dead Boy (my personal favorite), who sold his soul and is doing good deeds to get a ticket to if not Paradise then at least somewhere other than where he’s currently bound.
Then there’s the ones who are old friends and worst enemies at the same time, like Razor Eddie, the punk God of the Straight Razor (who appears in the Forest Kingdom series too); Henry ‘The Man’ Walker, a.k.a ‘The Voice of the Authorities’ (who also appears in the Secret Histories series); Tommy Oblivion, the existential detective, a partner in Taylor’s and Suzie’s mission into the past to search for Taylor’s mother (Book VI: Paths Not Taken) but is also a real hero and friend, despite all the horrible things Taylor makes him an accessory to. Whom else? Oh, of course, there’s Tommy’s two brothers Hadleigh ‘The Detective Inspectre’ Oblivion (whatever that is, but it sounds cool, and I hope Green spins-off more about him) and the dead but elven wand possessing Larry Oblivion. There’s the crazy Collector, who has a vast warren of caves under the Sea of Tranquility where he stores his prized possessions. And a host of others; Annie Abbatioir, Jessica Sorrow; Merlin Satanspawn (got the hint now?), the Lord of Thorns, Old Father Time, Sinner the Saint and his demon succubus girlfriend Pretty Poison, Pew the Blind Preacher, and so on. Then there’s the out-on-out villains, like the source-of-suffering Lamentation, the evil Beadle, Dr. Fell, the Masked Marquades, Count Entropy, the Harrowing, the Walking Man, the Removal Man, the Reasonable Men, Hobbes the Butler (created no doubt just for the oppurtunity to use ‘the butler did it’ line) and assorted bully-boys who get sent after Taylor. There’s the entire Street of the Gods, too, which appears in the Forest Kingdom series too. They all walk and talk in cliches (indeed many of them are cliches) but that’s what makes it great entertainment.
Along with the Nightside series, perhaps the best known exponent of the supernatural detective is Jim Butcher, with his Dresden Files series, well worth reading as well. If you’re looking for something a little more cerebral I’d recommend China Meiville, or perhaps Randall Garrett. Pick up the Nightside series if you like your detective fiction fantasy marvelous but mostly uncanny, a little pulpy, obviously humorous, pot-boiled, and ungently gory. That’s Green’s formula, and his go-to trick if the plot seems to be faltering is to throw in massive amounts of bloody combat, mostly hand-to-hand with a good deal of smash-and-splatter! Much like I’d said in the Deathstalker review, it’s a great accompaniment for a lazy vacation (even if it’s just to your couch) or in-tube/cab-commute reading. I’ve often criticized Green for being repetitive and obvious, but that could well be because I read his books so much and so often. I’ll wind up here, the read-more portion of this review is about John Taylor and then brief summaries of the books in the series..
The Nightside series is narrated in the first person through John Taylor, the private eye with a special gift, courtesy of his not-exactly-human-in-fact-nowhere-even-close-to-it mother. It bestows upon him the ability to find anything,and I mean anything. In the course of his adventures, John finds a house that eats people (Book I: Something From The Nightside); the unholy grail which Judas drank from (Book II: Angels Of Light and Darkness); the original butterfly of chaos theory (Book V: Hex In The City); the heart of Merlin Satanspawn (Book VI: Paths Not Taken); and much later on, Excalibur (Book XII: A Hard Day’s Nightside). Paths Not Taken (Books V) and Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth (Book VI) resolve the biggest plot question of the series, the identity and agenda of Taylor’s not-exactly-human-in-fact-nowhere-even-close-to-it mother. This revelation, I have to say, was fairly original. It’s related to the Bible and the Narnia series, but that’s all I say here.
The supreme anti-hero private detective, Taylor is very obviously modeled on the trench-coat wearing, tall, dark, and handsome detectives of countless pulp fictions. Anyone who’s read Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett will easily see where Green gets his inspiration for his ‘hard-boiled detective with a heart-of-gold’ trophe. Aside from his incredibly powerful gift, which essentially allows him to tap into reality itself, Taylor has some other neat tricks. A particular favorite of his is the ability to take the bullets out of his enemies’ guns. This has quite a few variations as he prodigiously, if violently and messily, blunders his way through the series with prodigious skill to his destiny, as most of Simon R. Green’s primary protagonists are wont to do). My favorite, on the basis of highest cringe factor, was the one where he takes the water out of public toilets and dumps it into his victim’s lungs. Incidentally, the Nightside series isn’t finished, there are at least two more books in the offing. While every story is complete in and of itself, if you don’t like waiting get stuck into Deathstalker or The Forest Kingdom series instead. I particularly recommend the Hawk and Fisher books, which in my opinion are the best supernatural crime-fighting detective fantasy I’ve read. The Forest Kingdom series review is forthcoming, as is the (also incomplete) Secret Histories series review, which’ll complete my Simon R. Green reviews.
BOOKS IN THIS SERIES:
Something from the Nightside: John Taylor is not a private detective per se, but he has a knack for finding lost things. That’s why he’s been hired to descend into the Nightside, an otherworldly realm in the center of London where fantasy and reality…
Agents of Light and Darkness: A quest for the Unholy Grail-the goblet from which Judas drank at the Last Supper-takes private eye John Taylor deep into the secret, magical heart of London…called the Nightside.
Nightingale’s Lament: In the Nightside, the hidden heart of London where it’s always 3 AM, Detective John Taylor must find an elusive singer known as The Nightingale. Her silken voice has inexplicably lured many a fan to suicide–and Taylor is determined to…
Hex and the City: Lady Luck has hired John Taylor to investigate the origins of the Nightside—the dark heart of London where it’s always 3 A.M. But when he starts to uncover facts about his long-vanished mother, the Nightside—and all of existence— could be…
Paths Not Taken: John Taylor just discovered his long-gone mother created the Nightside—the dark heart of London—and intends to destroy it. To save his birthplace, he will have to travel back through a very distant—and probably deadly—past.
Sharper than a Serpent’s Tooth: John Taylor is the only thing standing between his not-quite-human mother and the destruction of the magical realm within London known as the Nightside.
Hell to Pay: In the wake of the war that left the Nightside leaderless, Jeremiah Griffin-one of the last of the immortal human families-plans to fill the power vacuum. But his granddaughter has disappeared, and he wants John Taylor to use his special…
The Unnatural Inquirer: The publisher of The Unnatural Inquirer—the Nightside’s most notorious rag—has offered John Taylor one million pounds to find a man who claims to have evidence of the afterlife stored on a DVD. The Inquirer made the guy a sweet deal.…
Just Another Judgement Day: God’s own enforcer, the righteous engine of destruction known as the Walking Man, has come to the Nightside. His sole purpose is the elimination of the wicked and the guilty, which means no one will be left in the Nightside…
The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny: Things were going so well for P.I. John Taylor, that it was only a matter of time before everything hit the fan. Walker, the powerful, ever-present, never-to-be-trusted agent who runs the Nightside on behalf of The Authorities, is dying. And he wants John to be his successor-a job that comes with more baggage, and more enemies, than anyone can possibly imagine.
A Hard Days Knight: John Taylor is a P.I. with a special talent for finding lost things in the dark and secret center of London known as the Nightside. He’s also the reluctant owner of a very special-and dangerous-weapon. Excalibur, the legendary sword. To find out why he was chosen to wield it, John must consult the Last Defenders of Camelot, a group of knights who dwell in a place that some find more frightening than the Nightside.
The Bride Wore Black Leathers: John Taylor is marrying the love of his life, Suzie Shooter, the Nightside’s most fearsome bounty hunter. But before he can walk down the aisle he has one more case to solve as a private eye — a case that has him on the run from friends and enemies both, with his bride-to-be looking to collect the bounty on his head…
From Bangalore but based primarily in New Delhi, India, Samir has variously been and continues to be a professional musician, a pub quiz host, a political campaign aide, and a student of the guitar, as well as history and international relations. He is currently Research Director for the Global Security Centre in India. He is also a freelance editor and research consultant, having worked for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Public Health Foundation of India, and a McKinsey-IBM KPO, as well as Random House and Oxford University Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org