Nether Light takes place in a strongly realized world, from the rough and tumble port town where Guyen and his family first arrive, to the capital city where the bulk of the novel takes place. It gives an impression of a rigidly structured society, one where careers can be assigned from an early age and where dissent can have severe, perhaps even fatal, consequences. Once the action moves to the capital, things also take on a greater political dimension, with Guyen encountering members of various factions vying to change things and often looking to use him for their own advantage.
In many ways, the main character of Guyen can sympathetic. Force to start over in a foreign land, and having to deal with a large amount of casual racism from multiple sides of the new society he finds himself in, his anger and bitterness are easy to understand, especially since he is a teenager. He can also be frustrating though. I counted multiple times where I was muttering to myself about the choices being made. I suppose that could be considered a positive in some regard, that I was invested enough to let that get to me but it can be galling to have the character mentally proclaim something a bad idea or situation but then not take steps to avoid it.
Given the size of the book, there are a number of supporting characters although only a handful are given more than cursory development. The most interesting are the trio of main female characters; Ariana, Mist, and Jal; and puzzling out their motivations is one of the stronger elements. Each of them alternately helps or hinders Guyen as he tries to find his way in his new society and come to terms with his new abilities.
The notion of a probability-based magic system is an intriguing one and, for the most part, works well; particularly in scenes where Guyen uses it to force outcomes. Unfortunately, the mechanics of it never felt especially clear, and other aspects, such as Guyen’s ever-present simulacrum or the concept of the Layer seemed either underdeveloped.
If I had to choose a word to describe Nether Light, the one that comes to mind is over-stuffed. There is a lot to like about it, the world-building is strong and the magic system is interesting but I was often left with the feeling that the author perhaps had more ideas for it than could comfortably fit into the narrative. Despite these complaints, I will be interested to see if the author intends to do more in this world and explore some of these points in greater detail.
6.5 out of 10 ghostly duplicates.