Los Nefilim, by T. Frohock
Posted July 29, 2016on:
where I got it: purchased new
Angels and Demons constantly play at war. Someone has to keep them in check, because what happens in the unearthly realms is reflected in the earthly realms. When angels and demons go to war, humans pay the price. The Los Nefilim are beings of angelic descent who use their magic to keep angels and demons in check. Their magic is in part fueled by their angelic vocal chords, and each Nefilim must find their own unique melody.
You know how a lot of fantasy novels start out with a huge infodump of the political situation, how the magic works, who has the magic, and why? An introduction, or a prologue, or whatever? Frohock does none of those things, or at least she doesn’t do them in the expected order, and it was so damn refreshing! The first novella, In Midnight’s Silence, is so light on the worldbuilding that at times I had a tough time figuring out who was who, and what was going on, and how all these characters were involved with one another. But I enjoyed the characters and the writing style so much that I didn’t care that I felt a little lost. Los Nefilim is a slow and dark burn, and that slow but steady rise to intensity makes you want to know more and more about what’s going on. There is a lot of darkness in this story, but also some laugh out loud funny moments. And when the reveals come, they are that much more satisfying.
Los Nefilim reads a little like Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg, where upon first read you may not be entirely sure what is going on, but the characters and what they are dealing with is so damn fun / awesome / dark / cool as hell that the pages just fly by, and eventually you get to those chapters that explain everything. So if you feel a little lost at the beginning of Los Nefilim, trust me, just keep reading.
When we first meet Diago and Miquel, they’ve already got plenty on their plate. Miquel has been part of Los Nefilim for a while, and although Diago has an ancient connection with their leader, Guillermo, he’s got a long way to go to prove himself as worthy. Miquel, Guillermo, and the other Los Nefilim are of purely angelic ancestry, and Diago was dual born – which means his magic can be used by either side. And that’s just a portion of the big picture, political stuff. What made this book shine for me was the small, intimate things. The family stuff. Diago learns he has a son. A child conceived through psychological manipulation, no one can blame young Rafael for the situation of his conception. Diago and Rafael adopt him from the orphanage he grew up in, and there are all these unexpectedly funny and endearing parenting scenes. More than anything, Diago and Miquel want Rafael to have a normal childhood. But when you fight demons and develop your own magic, is normal and safe ever possible?
There aren’t words for how much I loved the magic system in Los Nefilim. It’s music and sound and color and emotion and love and context, and all of that siphoned into secret glyphs that can empower as much as they can entrap. It’s a magic that is a reflection of the person singing the glyph, so everyone’s magic is completely unique, often affected by what they’ve been through in their life. I’m not describing it very well, but it was seriously awesome. And magic should feel different when you are forced to use it against someone you thought loved you. Being betrayed and used takes a character to a really dark place. Diago lives a continually conflicting life, and no matter how much his story kicks you in the feels, he’s feeling it even worse.
After surviving magical and spiritual poison, Diago suffers bouts of chromesthesia, which is a real thing. I’ve run into a handful of characters in other books who have synesthesia, and Diago’s chromesthesia is the closest I’ve ever found to an author getting it right, what it really feels like to be effectively blinded by sounds. Yes, I know that sounds completely crazy, and yes, I am more than aware that the synesthesia I experience is very mild. My brain mixes up sound with vision, and while my eyeballs are working perfectly fine when my ears are bombarded with white noise, my brain interprets the white noise as “blinding”, because I can’t hear anything through it. Diago’s chromesthesia made perfect sense to me, and it was nice for me when other characters didn’t look at him like he was crazy.
Beyond the awesome magic and the gentle and funny family scenes, and the synesthesia and the politics, Los Nefilim deals with other issues, like societal acceptance of homosexuals, victim blaming, sexual assault recovery, and betrayal. This novel takes place in Spain in the 1930s, a time when all of that was completely taboo. Even though I felt a little lost right at the beginning, the further I got into Los Nefilim, the more I liked it. I actually bought these as e-books off of Amazon, read the first e-book twice, and then bought the paperback. I really hope Frohock has plans to write more stories in this world, because these three novellas do exactly what my favorite kind of fiction does: It makes me want to know more about these characters and this world. Diago and Guillermo have a history that was only briefly touched on, and I want to know more. How did Diago and Miquel meet? I want to know that story. What conversations led up Rafael’s mother seeking out Diago? I want to know. I really love it when an author gives me an amazing story that’s like the most amazing dessert I’ve ever had – it was delicious and satisfying and amazing, and I want the opportunity to have to more of it.