I am a longtime fan of weird fiction, especially when that mystery and paranormal menace crosses paths with teeth-gritting military ops and desperate conspiracies. You can blame games like Delta Green or Conspiracy X, or literary gems like Tim Power’s Declare, for my appreciation of this genre (I’m not sure what that genre is called, but I know it deserves an awesome name). But that’s the thing: I appreciate it, but I’m not a sucker for it. I have seen too many really good examples of these stories to be happy with just any offering in the genre.
Luckily, Night’s Nadir qualifies as a “really good example.”
Before I picked up the book, I had very little idea what it was about. I bought it because I had read several other Four Fools Press offerings before and enjoyed them quite a bit. The first page is a helpful synopsis that recommends it to “Fans of Indiana Jones and Uncharted” and dangles tantalizing hints of dark secrets that lurk in one of the most ancient of mankind’s endeavors. Once I read that, I knew I was in for a treat.
Night’s Nadir is the story of Barnabas, seemingly a pretty standard example of the convention of the shadowy special forces operator who has Seen Too Much. He is on a mysterious mission through the Sinai desert for an equally mysterious employer. His destination: the Mines of Mufkat, one of the oldest known examples of human industry. Here we run into one of the few problems with this story: these shadowy, barely-hinted at motivations and purposes of the main character never get fleshed out in the course of this short story. I kept waiting for more insight into who Barnabas was working for and exactly what he and his hapless team were searching for in the mines, but I was disappointed. I really wanted to know more about the legends and lore of these Mines of Mufkat (which I assumed were a real place that I somehow hadn’t heard about, but Google and Wikipedia suggest that they are an invention of the author), but here, too, I was left hanging.
Those frustrating shortcomings aside, Blankenship gives us an awful lot to feast on throughout the story. The first part is an extremely atmospheric spook-show, expertly building tension and trepidation on the journey to, and into, the mines. The transition from mere hints of menace to a direct confrontation with otherworldly terror happens at just the right moment, and we are treated to a long, but intensely exciting battle between Barnabas and ravenous djinn. The scene, far from being your typical brainless, disposable action scene, is very creative, almost psychedelic; as much a struggle of minds and perceptions as bullets and sinew. Here Blankenship demonstrates a commendable ability to describe the uncanny, choosing just the right adjectives and analogies to give a definite mental form to Things That Should Not Be. Blankenship’s brand of djinn are a welcome and wonderfully fresh contribution to a monstrous repertoire too-often populated by stale, generic horrors.
From the point at which the story crosses over into fully supernatural ground, it moves at a blistering pace. While it emphasizes the deadly, bewildering action and keeps the reader on the edge of his seat, it is also a little bewildering at times. The action moves so fast, and the eldritch landscape is so mind-bending, that I felt like my eyes were just pulled along by a torrent of words rather than really comprehending what I was reading. I suppose that’s a bad thing, but it was arguably complementary to the bizarre and creepy atmosphere of the story.
The story’s end raises more questions than it answers. It’s not done in a cheap, shoddy way, and I can’t fault Blankenship for this, as this is obviously only the first part in a (hopefully extensive) new series. I’d have liked to learn more about the shadowy players and powers in his world, but for now I can be content with this surprisingly good morsel of weird fiction and look forward to the next installment.
Final verdict: Highly recommended.