Nightrender by Jodi Meadows should be a fascinating account of good versus evil. After all, it has demons and a god-like creature, battles, and machinations, and treachery. It doesn’t take much to make me like a book, and usually, any one of those will ring the bell for me. Unfortunately, I found Nightrender to be less than fascinating and more of a slog.
Let me be clear. The problem is not with the plot. I like the plot on the whole. The very idea is a quite brilliant metaphor – that there is a rend between worlds that allows demons and other nastiness to enter the world of humans but the only thing protecting this rend is a shell that thins with every bit of violence and evil humans do to one another. This I like. It feels very current and timely.
I do have issues with the general pacing of the plot, however. So much of it crawls because there is so much thinking between the three narrators and not enough doing. In my opinion, there is entirely too much hand-wringing, justifying, or wishful thinking. While I can appreciate this for the two narrators/characters who are still in their teens, I struggle with all of the angst-filled inner monologuing for the eternal creature who has been around for thousands of years.
After all, in one passage, Ms. Meadows describes her as having her age and experiences show in her eyes. There are numerous references to her age and the passage of time since her creation. Yet, she does more hand-wringing and questioning than the other two main characters. I would think that someone that old and that experienced would be beyond the levels of anxiety that she forces us to witness.
What’s more, much of Nightrender’s anxiety revolves around the fact that humans are essentially evil. That they will not stop finding ways to hurt one another, even if their lives depend upon being good. Since we know that humanity is rarely so clear-cut in its goodness or evilness, Nightrender’s concerns make for some excellent thinking points. What would make her internal debate much better would be her experiences with morally ambiguous characters. Except, there is a dearth of morally ambiguous characters in the novel. While there are a few exceptions, pretty much everyone we meet is a traditional hero or villain. It feels like a lost opportunity here, one I hope Ms. Meadows explores in the next book.
Much like the humans Nightrender must protect, Nightrender is neither a good nor bad story. My frustrations lie in what I want to read instead of what I read. There is so much untapped potential within the story regarding good versus evil and the lack of clear delineations between the two that I cannot help but feel a sense of loss in its absence. In addition, I would like to see less explaining through reverie or monologuing. I want to see Nightrender continue to act her age and think with all of the wisdom such years provide. Ms. Meadows is so close to making this an outstanding story. All the parts are there. It is just a matter of whether she takes the necessary steps out of superficiality and into something deeper and greater for the next novel.