REVIEW SUMMARY: The first part of a tale of supernatural tale of angels and demons shows off the author’s love and knowledge of its period setting, and the ability to strongly draw characters and character conflicts.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: 1930’s Spain is the backdrop for the tale of supernatural beings, a dark bargain, and a struggle for autonomy, fatherhood, love, and perhaps the future of the world.
PROS: Excellent character development and pacing; evocative settings and locales.
CONS: The short, incomplete structure of the overall story means that this portion of it ends just as the large narrative just gets going.
BOTTOM LINE: A good opening to a dark, rich tale set in an underused setting in fantasy fiction.
1930’s Spain is not a common venue for American fantasy fiction of any stripe. It does appear in some stories: Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds has a sequence set there as the Germans test their very special recruits in the horrors of the Spanish Civil War; and the fabulous movie Pan’s Labyrinth marries the personal horror of fascism and authoritarianism with dark and twisted supernatural doings in the very personal story of the young protagonist.
Joining those stories T. Frohock’s novella In Midnight’s Silence: Los Nefilim Part One. It is the first part of a story about the Nefilim, a group of supernatural beings overlapping both Angels and Daimons, and caught in the intrigues of both. In Midnight’s Silence focuses on Diago Alvarez, who was first introduced in the contemporary fantasy story Hisses and Wings, co-written with Alex Bledsoe.
In 1930’s Spain, Diago lives a relatively placid life. Sure, his same-sex relationship with his lover Miquel is something that isn’t something to advertise in a strongly Catholic and conservative country. And sure, being a Nefilim who has parents both angelic and demonic makes Diago a rare and hot property in the supernatural world that he tries to ignore and stay away from. He manages this despite Miquel’s much stronger connections to the angelic half of this supernatural demimonde of which most mortals have no awareness. But even Diago can see that war is coming, perhaps not just to Spain. But Diago, centuries old, treasures this moment as long as he can, even as forces move to disrupt and destroy it, forever.
The strength in In Midnight’s Silence is in its characters and their dilemmas. At the start of the novel, Diago’s self-imposed isolation away from the supernatural society is a resolution that gets severely tested by the events that unfold. The story is much more concerned with the moral choices of its protagonist, his attempt to escape the box in which outside forces have put him, and how he deals with their manipulations. The Diago at the end of this story is not the Diago of Hisses and Wings; crucial steps in that long character arc have been made, and I look forward to filling in more of his story and character growth.
Setting is another component where the story excels. This early 1930’s Barcelona feels very much like Weimar Germany, an almost decadent, hedonistic realm where people are on the edge of war and conflict. They try to carve for themselves a bit of happiness before the darkness falls. I particularly enjoyed the depictions of the various layers of reality on display, from the ordinary streets of Barcelona, to hidden nightclubs and far darker realms. That wondeful layering gives the setting a definite texture and significant depth. Barcelona and its overlapping realms feels like a real place, and one I’d want to visit.
My major criticism of the story is a matter of structure and release. In Midnight’s Silence is only a portion of the full story. While the major plot — Diago’s fateful choices and the forces manipulating him — are resolved and are well-executed and completed, the ending of the story makes it clear that this is just the first installment in a much larger story. The momentum of Los Nefilim only really gets going near the end. While the story as presented is highly enjoyable, I would have preferred to have more of the complete story upfront.
That said, the author’s style and preference for dark fantasy is well represented here, and readers looking to try Frohock’s writing for the first time will find that In Midnight’s Silence is a stellar and darkly shining example of the work and virtues of an underread and underappreciated writer.