Key Descriptors: Urban Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Angels, Demons, LGBTQ+ representation
Applicable /r/Fantasy Bingo Squares: Novella, vampires
Premise: Angels and demons have waged war for centuries, using their offspring, nefilim, as their foot soldiers. Diago Alvarez, a unique nefil of both angelic and demonic descent, is drawn into their war against his will. In order to save his son, he joins Los Nephilim – an order of nefil dedicated to serving the angels. Diago soon finds that the fate of not only Spain, but that of the world may be at stake. While this book is based on Christian lore, be aware that it’s not what I would consider “religious” any moreso than most books based on Greek mythology are.
Los Nefilim is an omnibus of three novellas, all by T Frohock. It includes In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death. Note for Amazon buyers: it is often cheaper to purchase each of the novellas separately if you are a Kindle reader!
Review: Up until I read Los Nefilim, I had never really considered myself a fan of urban fantasy. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple one-offs, sure, but it was never a genre I actively sought out. Reading this book gave me a full-blown identity crisis. I utterly ADORED these novellas. I ate them up. They were wonderful. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, I loved the writing! I could gush for a while about these books. I currently have the sequel full length novel, Where Oblivion Lives, on order, and I can’t wait to read it.
The magic in the Los Nefilim world is music-based, which we don’t see nearly enough of in fantasy. The Nefilim are able to form sigils by harmonizing individually and with one another, which can be used to influence mortals, create dramatic physical effects, and a variety of other things. It’s a bit nebulous and has a feel of the fantastic to it; it’s uncertain just what their magic might be capable of. I enjoyed having this bit of mystery; while I do enjoy hard magic a la Brandon Sanderson, it’s a joy to have a well-done soft magic system with explanation but not necessarily limitation. Watching the nefilim and angels interact with and use their magic on mortals and the mortal world is both fascinating and exemplifies the best characteristics of urban fantasy.
Diago Alvarez, our protagonist, is the character who hands-down made this book a favorite. While it still would have been well done without him, the delicacy with which he’s written is bar-none. In an era long before LGBT+ rights are considered societally (Los Nefilim is set in 1930s Spain), Diago is a bisexual young man with a gay boyfriend. Their romance is both endearing and heartwarming; it’s not about them being two gay/bi men together, it’s about them being partners and supporters of one another. Their interaction with Diago’s son, Rafael, is just the cutest thing. They have an ongoing joke about being a family of bears that just makes me melt. Rafael happily accepts the affection of his two fathers – he’s more concerned about whether they’ll let him have that adorable kitten he wants than he is about them both being men. Rafael is an absolute sweetie.
Diago at one point experienced being raped by an angel, and his emotions along with Miquel’s responses to it felt genuine and true to life. As someone who at one point was a victim of sexual abuse, I think it’s so, so important to have examples such as this for victims to contextualize their experiences. Not everyone has a flight or fight response – some people get stuck with freeze or fawn (the two lesser-known “F” responses). Seeing the fawn response in media with an explanation of the manipulation that went along with it both broke my heart even as I was thrilled to see it. I dearly wished I’d read this back when my own wounds were still fresh and I was blaming myself; I think reading about Diago would have helped me to accept myself and my actions much sooner if I had. This is definitely one of my own ‘pet’ issues, if you will, so books that do this well tend to immediately jump up in my estimation.
Finally, the prose! Prosey books are my absolute favorites. Paint a picture with your words and I am a happy clam. T Frohock does a wonderful job of this. It’s hard to say exactly how she manages it, but something about her sentence structures simply evoke the essence of Spain and the Spanish language. Perhaps it’s the word choice? Perhaps it’s all in the phrasing? In any case, it makes the world come alive in a way that mere descriptions could not manage. She sprinkles in a few Spanish phrases (fear not, for they are translated in the text… no need to have Google Translate handy) that are the cherry on top.
I’d be hard pressed to point to a single thing I disliked in any of these novellas. T. Frohock has created an outstanding world with even better characters.
If you liked Los Nefilim, you might also enjoy:
- The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wrecker
- The Books of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear