You know it’s going to be a bad day when, first thing, someone steps in front of a moving subway train right next to you; and next, when you have a major fight with your ex-wife about your daughter, it’s hard to believe things will get any better. When the third thing that happens is you have a heart attack and die, it can’t really get any worse, can it?
But maybe it can get better. Maybe you can come back to life with the aid of a passerby. Things might get confusing in the immediate aftermath — why is the old lady who came to your aid so intent on making sure you don’t get to a hospital? How did she manage to transport you from the back of an ambulance to a grassy plain and back again? And why is she calling you “Rabbit”?
It must be hard, after decades of a normal life, to find that you are not entirely human. When you get that information on top of the morning you’ve already had, well, that’s the stuff novels are made of. And it’s quite a beginning to Mike Shevdon’s first novel, Sixty-One Nails.
Shevdon introduces his protagonist and first-person narrator, Niall, in a flurry of action. The opening is dramatic, but it immediately points up one of the problems with the novel: a lot happens that has no connection to the rest of the plot, and therefore gets in the way of the story. For instance, the suicide with which the book opens has no relationship to anything that comes after; it is merely a device used to get the narrator moving through the underground hallways of the London Tube with a huge crowd of people intent on getting to work. The extended opening sequence introduces Niall to Blackbird, a principal character, but puts her in a guise that makes later events in the relationship between the two of them difficult to accept. And it fails to make either of the two particularly likeable, tempting the reader to put the book down.
It’s worth hanging in, though, because after the reader wades through all this exposition, an interesting plot pops up. Blackbird instructs Niall in what it means to carry Fey blood in his veins just in time to save him from a Fey assassin, one of the Untainted. More importantly, she reveals to him that the Untainted — those who are pure Fey — have a serious vendetta going on with the majority of the Fey, who have interbred with humans. This war has somehow come to be centered on Niall, who soon finds himself enmeshed in ensuring that the Ceremony for the Annual Rendering of the Quit Rents, an obscure rite that is the oldest legal ceremony in England with the exception only of the Royal Coronation, comes off without a hitch. That’s more complicated than it sounds, for one of the knives used in the ceremony is not true, and must be remade. If the ceremony is not properly conducted, the Untainted will somehow be granted greater access to the world, and the lives and futures of the Fey and of humankind will be at risk.
Even when Shevdon finds his historically fascinating plot, though, the pace remains a serious problem. There is a fine novella hiding inside this novel, as if Shevdon did not trust his idea sufficiently to set it out straight instead of cloaking it in a great many unnecessary words. Was Shevdon pressured to expand his story to trilogy length? Many problems remain unresolved at the end of the novel, to be taken up in the next in the series, The Road to Bedlam. I’m intrigued enough by Shevdon’s plot in Sixty-One Nails to purchase the sequel.