A Review of Volk: A Novel of Radiant Abomination, by David Nickle

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh


Radiant, Not Abominable

Apologies, first, for any spoilers in this review, but readers should know they’ll get plenty of good stuff, even if they have a heads-up on some of the reveals. Stoker Award-winning Canadian author David Nickle presents a historical-fantastical body-horror epic, looping in Brownshirts, fighter aces, extreme biology and the nature of faith. And if that sounds like a potent mix, well, try it and see.

Volk unfolds in Europe c.1931, with occasional flashbacks to pre-war America. The Volk of the title refers, of course, to Germanic völkisch ideology, but also to a different and more intense group identity, centred on a parasitic organism, the Juke, which can appropriate human drives, beliefs, and even perceptions to its own needs. The Nazis, and other groups, including the survivors of past encounters with the Juke, are all interested in exploring and exploiting those properties – for diverse purposes and through all sorts of means, some of them very atrocious.

The book is a sequel to Nickle’s previous work on eugenics, also from Chizine, Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, which originally articulated “the biology and parasitology” of the Juke. “I’d never written a sequel until this one,” the author observes in the Acknowledgments. Personally, I hadn’t read Eutopia prior to reading Volk, and still haven’t, but I can tell you that it’s not necessary to do so to catch up on the extensive backstory (you can read more about that here), as Nickle does manage to communicate all the necessary information without Volk feeling like an appendage. He also does a great job of evoking the atmosphere of interwar Europe without overdoing the period detail, in a way that recalls Eric Ambler’s “Popular Front” thrillers. Nickle has appeared in the Queer Fear series, but any overt homoeroticism in Volk is laid on with a light touch. Read more »

A Review of The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

Review by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Stone Three

The Stone Sky, third in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series, comes hard on the heels of her second Hugo Award for the trilogy’s second volume, The Obelisk Gate. This is definitely not a standalone volume, though: you absolutely need to have read the first two books of The Broken Earth series to know what’s going on. All the same, it fairly zips along, with fewer words spent on explication – even though Jemisin is an expert world-builder. This means there are few of the quieter, reflective passages that allowed readers to get the measure of Jemisin’s imagined post-multiple-apocalyptic world and society: events push towards a grand finale. Massively grand. In the process, the backstory behind the whole narrative comes fully into focus for the first time, raising the stakes by more than a few orders of magnitude. That also gives The Stone Sky an uncommon quality in multi-volume fantasy cycles these days: Un-put-down-ability. I finished it in a couple of days. Read more »