A while back, I was sent a copy of Matt Spencer’s The Night and the Land, the first book of the Deschembine Trilogy. While it was a very entertaining book, I find even now that it is difficult to write about because of how different it is. And trust me, that’s a good thing.
The Night and the Land is not an easy work to pin down; it upends a lot of the tropes that would make it fit neatly in this or that category.
On the face of it, The Night and the Land is a story about a young man with a supernatural birthright coming into his powers, meeting and falling in love with a runaway girl from another supernatural clan at odds with his and whose parents and siblings are trying to bring her back into the fold.
The “coming of age” plot has certain hallmarks of the YA trend, but the book itself is a savage and brutal affair, even in its romance, that might appeal much more to male readers than modern YA’s target market demographic of women 18-35. It is Not Safe For Cool Wine Aunts.
The Night and the Land is “Urban Fantasy”, but the “Urban” is very small-town and New England Gothic. The setting is intimate and picturesque, and the town of Brattleboro, Vermont is as much a character as anyone else in the story.
What could easily have been framed as a simple “Vampires and Werewolves don’t mix” type story is actually rife with mysteries and depth of setting that prevents readers from settling into assumptions and cozy stereotypes of the archetypical modern urban fantasy. [The monsters are certainly not vampires and not exactly werewolves; which makes them that much more uncanny].
One of the most fascinating things about Spencer’s tale is that while the characters, both the “heroes” and the “villains”, are almost unforgivably vicious, and sometimes even cruel and murderous, I found myself deeply empathizing with them—even torn at the end as the story built towards its final showdown, hoping for a “draw” that would give everyone a chance down the road for redemption and reconciliation.
Any recommendation I might make for this can’t be given without some reservations: it’s not for the faint of heart—some folks may find the strong language and visceral imagery off-putting. And the violence is EXTREME [like Fist of the North Star meets Uzumaki extreme]. But The Night and the Land was absolutely one of the most enthralling books I’ve read this year.