Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Midnight's Silence: Los Nefilim (Part One) - Teresa Frohock

In Midnight’s Silence is the first in Teresa Frohock’s “Los Nefilim” novella sequence. It posits a world in which angels and demons are physically real, and inhabit the world alongside humanity – largely cloaked in shadows. Their children, the Nefilim of the title, are something else again – and the struggle and sacrifice of some of them is central to Frohock’s story.

The world of Los Nefilim is set in the Spain of the nineteen-thirties, several years before the civil war. In most respects, it resembles the world that we know. There’s the division between the rich and poor of the country, with subtle hints of the geo-political conflict to come. But this is an undercurrent in a richer sense of social and literal geography. This is a Spain where you can feel the turgid heat curling off the page, and where the vitality of the people is obvious in every word and gesture. 

Frohock’s prose is almost lyrically descriptive, and really helps locales come to life. There’s broken down boarding houses, stultifying parlours of the rich, and some sewers which fairly crawl off the page with a stink of tortured misery hanging in every passage. Where this world differs from our own is the titular Nefilim – the children of Angels, caught in a hidden conflict between Angels and Daimons The mythology around the Nefilim and those above them in the celestial struggle is deftly inserted into the narrative, the reader picking up information alongside the characters, the world gaining a different texture as their understanding grows. There’s not much in the way of flashy magic here – but there is a sense of corruption, and a sense of a kind of divinity,  lurking between the words on the page. I’d love to delve deeper into the world hidden behind our own – but also love that most of it remains unknown.

In part, this mystery is due to our protagonist, Diago. The offspring of an angel and a daimon, aligned to neither, he gives us a unique view on the world. But it’s one limited by status – he is deliberately kept out of the loop on all sides of the conflict, and his sense of discovery moves alongside that of the reader. But he’s not just – or perhaps not even – a special snowflake, despite being a hybrid. It’s to Frohock’s credit that Diago feels more human than supernatural – a man with a deep love for his partner, Miquel, a man with some tightly controlled rage issues, and a man trying to construct a version of himself.  He feels flawed, but not broken, and as the reader sits inside his head, we can feel the emotional depth of his commitments, and the turmoil of his struggles. There’s a sense of the iceberg about Miquel – far more present than is currently exposed – but what we see here has the intensity of a lava bath. His relationship with Miquel is one of the core sections of the text, and it feels plausible, and carries a great deal of emotional honesty and heft. There’s a certain stark vulnerability present in their interactions which makes them a pleasure to read.

There’s other characters here of course. I was a particular fan of the clinically cold angel who kickstarts the plot, and the enjoyably vile demon Moloch. The supernatural creatures have a coiled darkness about them, on both sides, and seem somehow both more and less than human – like looking into a fun-house mirror. In contrast to Diago’s tortured near-humanity, they serve as stark warnings, or precursors of narrative dread – and keep things tense enough to have you turning every page.

The plot is fairly straightforward, wrapped around the strong core of characters and setting. It’s tightly plotted and tense; there are constraints on the characters which keep them moving, and their need, and the aforementioned emotional stakes, had me invested and turning pages as fast as possible. There’s a lot at risk here, and the characters are convincing enough, and I was interested in them enough, to feel that risk, and the sacrifices they were willing to make to attain it – the plot was intriguing in it’s own right, but worked wonderfully when meshed with the characters. In any even, it sprints along, merging a kind of slowly rising horror with adrenaline and a feeling of emotional investment to create an literary elixir, greater than the sum of its parts.

Is it worth reading? Well, I’d say so. The characters are top-flight, plausible and fascinating examples of humanity and…otherwise. The setting works, and feels vividly real. The plot acts as the glue between the other two pieces of the narrative, and can be both entertainingly terrifying and emotionally convincing – so yes, give it a go. 

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