Title: Nightshade City.
Series Title: Nightshade Chronicles
Author: Hilary Wagner
Date Added: May 17, 2016
Date Started: June 23, 2017
Date DNF: June 30, 2017
Reading Duration: 7 days
Percentage Read: 28%
Genre: Fantasy, Mid-Grade/Young Adult (YA),
Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Publisher: Holiday House
Shares Paradigms With: Redwall, Watership Down (both linked in the blurb below)
Deep beneath Trillium City, a modern metropolis, lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of rats of extraordinary intelligence and ability. The once peaceful and democratic colony has become a harsh dictatorship ruled by the High Minister Kildeer and his henchman, Billycan, who runs the Kill Army and collects weekly Stipend from the terrified subjects. The two of them rule with iron fists. With most of the adult rats wiped out in Killdeer’s Bloody Coup and the subsequent great flood, orphaned young male rats are forced into the army and the females into servitude or worse. But change is coming. . . .
Two orphan brothers, Vincent and Victor Nightshade, sons of a hero killed in the Bloody Coup, manage to escape from the Kill Army and meet up with Juniper Belancourt, leader of a rebel group seeking to overthrow their oppressors and restore peace and democracy in a new city. The brothers are quickly caught up in Juniper’s cause: “We survive by cover of night. We live in the shadows, waiting for our redemption! Our name must symbolize our burning spirit. . . . Tonight and forever, we are Nightshade City!”
Juniper’s plans are complicated by many factors. His lovely young niece Clover has been picked by Killdeer to be his next Chosen One, so the rebels and their allies the Earthworms must work fast to save her. Can the rebels locate their enemies’ War Room? Can Juniper’s former love, now holding a position in Killdeer’s Ministry, be trusted? Will the rebels be able to execute their plans without the aid of a young Topsider (human)? And how will Vincent and Victor fare in battle will they honor their father’s legacy of courage?
NIGHTSHADE CITY is rich with memorable characters: Vincent, who comes of age in this time of change; his worshipful younger brother, Victor; beautiful, intelligent Clover; Mother Gallo, a canny survivor who discovers her lost love only to risk losing him again; the charismatic Juniper, a kind and courageous leader whose vision carries the rebels into great danger; Killdeer, a decadent narcissist with surprising depth; and Billycan, a truly demented former lab rat, brilliant, vicious, and Juniper’s sworn enemy.
This enthralling animal fantasy, in the classic tradition of Redwall and Watership Down, encompasses timeless themes of honor and loyalty, family ties and lost love, alliances and betrayals. Readers will respond enthusiastically to this surefire page-turner, set in a brilliantly imagined world filled with easy-to-root-for heroes and villains they’ll love to hate.
This story was touted as sharing paradigms with both Redwall and Watership Down, two of my favorite series/novels of animal centered fantasy/fiction. In Hilary Wagner’s work, they are anthropomorphic like the former and are forced to fight against a totalitarian regime like the latter. Unlike Brian Jacques’ long running series though, the rats of Nightshade City have a human factor to contend with, and the fact that the protagonists are rats differentiates it from Redwall even more. Mr. Jacques has an extremely strict system where certain species fall (and there’s a great deal I can say about that in terms to how it compares to social class, but that’s a subject for another post), and rats are almost always villainous except in a few cases, which are quite noteworthy.
I had planned and indeed had written notes for a Redwall fanfiction years ago that featured foxes as the main characters to subvert the author’s hegemony. I even had a title The Foxes of Blackwood Forest or something along those lines (I don’t remember the forest’s exact name), and the protagonists were a family of the titular vulpines who’d fled said woods ahead of…something bad, a vermin horde or whatnot (I never quite worked that part out). They reach Redwall Abbey where the inhabitants are not remotely welcoming of what they deem carnivorous invaders, despite the foxes’ warnings about the impending doom that they needs prepare for ere it arrives else surely be overrun. The story would obviously deal with themes of prejudice and be a metaphor for racism. Shit…I should look into reviving this project. It’s actually not a bad idea, and as I’m writing about it, I’m getting more ideas for how to put it together. Hm…well, back to the review proper.
Vincent and Victor Nightshade are decent characters that I think the intended audience could well connect with. They’re the equivalent of an older teenager and his kid brother attempting to survive after a disaster robbed them of parents, and the story opens with the two young rats on the run from the Kill Army that forcefully impresses males once they reach a certain age.
Though this is a mid-grade/YA novel, there are some very heavy ideas within. Minister Killdeer, the authoritarian dictator of the Catacombs led a Bloody Coup that killed off a good portion of the citizens of Trillium who drove him out in the first place, and many of the ones who survived died later in the second Great Flood. Killdeer then instituted the Kill Army to terrorize and extort the oppressed citizenry.
Then there’s Clover, the niece of one of the resistance leaders Juniper. She’s been pretending her grandfather is still alive and therefore can serve as her guardian, since unguarded female rats are forced to do what too many females in history have endured, and Clover is a special case, since she’s been picked as one of Killdeer’s “Chosen Ones.” It’s the equivalent of a teenage girl being forced to marry a sixty/seventy year old man, and the implications are horrifyingly clear.
I really liked the premise of this story, but something about the writing style put me off. There was an abundance of exclamation marks at the end of dialogue, and I feel like there was an over affectation in certain characters and a bit of exposition that could’ve been shown instead of told. Regardless, I’d still recommend this to fans of Redwall and older children/preteens. Younger ones might not pick up the blatant undercurrent of potential sexual violence, but I’d still steer them away from this due to the general violence and mutilation.