Sixty-One Nails and His Face All Red

Before I dive into my column be forewarned that I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo again this year which means my columns may be shorter or nonexistent. As always I will not write a column for Thanksgiving week as I’ll be frolicking with my family. This week we’re going to look at a lovely new fantasy novel but first I’d like to point your attention to this fantastic comic by Emily Carroll. I follow her on twitter and have been a fan of her drawings and comics since another artist pointed her out to me. I especially like a recent series she did of lusty ladies and monsters. This comic tells a sad and scary story of brotherly love/hate, jealousy and revenge. The drawing is as beautiful as the writing is solid.

I almost didn’t read Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon. When I first looked it up online the blurb said something like it was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere’s faster, better cousin, which annoyed me as Neverwhere is one of my all time favorite books. Instead of making me think I would love Sixty-One Nails I thought the author of the blurb was, well let’s go with misguided. I’ve noticed that invariably when someone says a debut novel is better than book b by master author a they are incorrect and the book is terrible. In this particular case we were both wrong.

They were wrong in that the book is not better than Neverwhere and I was wrong in thinking the book was probably going to stink. It’s a terrific read with detailed world building, some of which is based on odd customs that have prevailed in England for eight hundred years. (This is what drew me to the book in the first place.) Niall is on his way to work when he witnesses a horrific event and subsequently has a heart attack. An elderly woman assists him and suddenly he’s feeling just fine, but very confused as peculiar things happen to and around him, spinning his view of the world and leaving him dizzy.

The woman’s name is Blackbird and she calls him Rabbit. She doesn’t want to know much about him or get involved with him but she needs to do a minimum amount to prevent a fearful creature from taking over his body and wreaking havoc on London and the surrounding countryside. It’s all very melodramatic and parts of it sound like a spy thriller (for instance when Blackbird tells him he has to go into hiding and must also send his ex-wife and teenaged daughter away where nobody will think to look for them) so Niall isn’t terribly inclined to believe her.

But things have definitely changed and when he goes back to his flat to remove all traces of himself and his family he has an eerie experience that ends with a death and his flight from a powerful creature and the police. With nowhere else to go he heads back to London, hoping to reconnect with Blackbird and make some sense out of his situation.

There are some things I find tedious about this book. It’s all or nothing; not only the fate of Niall and his family are at stake, the entire world is in danger and only he and Blackbird have a hope of saving it. In the abstract there’s nothing wrong with risking the whole world, but in my experience it’s overdone. I’m not going to feel any more invested in a story if the world is going to end. Having the characters worry that their world is over is good enough for me. So, much like a story that starts with killing a wife and child and the husband/father swearing revenge, saving the world stories make me a little tired.

However there was quite a bit about this novel that I really enjoyed. I liked the dynamic between Blackbird and Niall and I liked the character growth he shows. I like that there are plenty of female characters and some of them are brave and resourceful and some of them are horrible and murderous. I like Mr. Shevdon’s prose style, which is clear and easy to get lost in; the kind of writing that seems easy to do but usually isn’t.

Sixty-One Nails is the first in a series but works well as a stand alone series, which is nice as the kind of book that just suddenly stops with a cliffhanger always makes me want to throw a temper tantrum. (I want it now! What do you mean I have to wait?) It’s an enjoyable adventure which nicely combines the modern urban world with the ancient world of the fairies. This story has suspense and horror, as well as some romance. You can read an excerpt here:

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Ellen who writes in to say, "Had more than eight hundred kids for Halloween. Costumes = great. Kids = polite. Best. Holiday. Ever." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at