Review: Awake in the Night Land, By John C. Wright


That was WEIRD.

This book got praise. A lot of praise. A lot of lavish praise. A lot of unbelievably ecstatic, incredibly lavish, over the top wonderful praise.

Did it earn it?

I think the answer depends on what you’re looking for.

For some background I read Awake in the Night a couple of months ago, separate from all of the other stories. I LOVED Awake in the Night. Loved it. It might be my favorite Wright story of all of the ones I’ve read. It is a triumph of the human spirit, a beautiful story of love and friendship and hope beyond all reason, hope when all hope is lost. It is mind-bogglingly brilliant.

So I was really, really looking forward to this book, especially after the glowing Castalia House review.

It is, easily, the oddest book I’ve ever read. The best story by far is the first. It is brilliant. But I’ve went through that.

Cry of the Night-Hound is second best.  I think what makes these two stories is that the Night Land is still really horrifying. In the first story, we’ve never seen it before. We know it will be horrible, but we don’t know how horrible.

In the second story, an unprepared, untrained woman enters the Night Land. We’ve had it drilled in our heads that all who enter the Night Land MUST be trained, and women must never enter. So when the main character enters the Night Land we know that things are going to be really, really tough. This story took a bit to get started, but when it did it was very entertaining. However, it didn’t have the spiritual quality of Awake in the Night. Wright tries to end it on an up note, but in this story I did not see the hand of God; in Awake in the Night I did.

Silence in the Night was just a rehash of the other two trips to the Night Lands. Different nasties, same general idea. This time the main character was not only a prepared male, he was a prepared male from the even further future with the power to block out evil thoughts from the night land and revive his body via mental techniques. It’s most notable for being insanely depressing. That, though, isn’t really a knock against it. Silence in the Night was definitely designed to be read along with the final story, The Last of all Suns – on its own it just leaves you hanging with nothing more than assurances of death. Not how it was designed.

The Last of all Suns was just bizarre. I have no clue what the Hell happened in that story. It certainly had very little to do with the Night Land stories except insofar as it took place in the same universe. Wright has a talent for technobabble, but the flip side of that is that he sometimes overuses it with the result that my eyes glaze over a bit while I wait for the adults to talk about something Junior can understand.

Wright ended the book on an up note, I guess. I’m not sure why doing something that all of the characters had been doing throughout the book was suddenly the solution to all of their problems, but what do I know? I would have liked to actually read another Night Land story though, as opposed to the utterly bizarre…thing that was The Last of all Suns.

It would have been cool if the early stories had been referenced by the later ones (not improbable if traversing the Nigh Land is really such a rare, memorable event), but alas, that was not to be.

That’s not to say, by the way, that it was bad. It wasn’t. But it was just weird. The previous stories had set up a certain universe with certain rules. I now expected the stories to take place in this universe, but then The Last of all Suns came along, and it was like reading something entirely different. It was as if The Last Battle took place entirely inside of some weird netherworld and ended with Tirian riding Jewel back into Narnia.

So, I don’t know. I guess I just don’t get it. The promise was enormous. Awake in the Night is a towering work of genius by a man clearly touched by the divine. The second novella was very good as well. And the last two weren’t exactly bad. But classic? 10 star? Brilliant? No way.

It gets a thumbs up. 8 of 10. Would be 7.5 if Awake in the Night was simply good and not incredibly brilliant. Recommendation: Just get Awake in the Night, it’s free if you use the free Amazon Trial of Kindle Unlimited and it’s the best story by far anyway. Still, if you’re a huge Wright fan and you want to see what the hype is about, you can’t go wrong for five dollars. Like all Wright books, it’s going to be quality regardless of whether or not it’s overrated.

City Beyond Time is still better overall.

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11 Responses to Review: Awake in the Night Land, By John C. Wright

  1. Chad says:

    I had to reread the last story in order to really get it. The confusion, for me, lay in the fact that it is primarily a story of hope and philosophy regarding the recreation of the world with evil trying to stack the deck with a Judas character in charge of the decision. The sci fi distracted me from that the first time reading it, and the second I was able to see the depths he was traveling a bit more clearly

    • Doesn’t it kind of undercut the theme a bt though when we learn at the very end that he is not, in fact, a Judas character?

      I will read it again, though.

      • Chad says:

        I don’t think so. Remember, Judas was damned because he lost hope and murdered himself hanging from the works of his own hands, rather than seeking redemption in Christ’s sacrifice. Every man that rejects God and seeks to justify himself to himself and his own deeds, rather than justifying ourselves to the Lord, is in many ways a Judas character.

        Judas and Adam live in each of us. The beauty of faith is that we are given the power not to be a Judas character ourselves, at the end of our personal stories. In this way, while the story of Wright’s might be less dramatic on the surface when he isn’t a Judas, it is far more beautiful and uplifting as it reminds the soul of God, heaven, and how to achieve salvation. It reminds us that God’s love is so great he would create the world and die for a single soul, and make heaven for that same soul.

        The story is of that single soul shown the beauty and power of that, and invites us to imagine such love for ourselves

      • Yeah, I thought it through, and the themes of the story are consistent with the work as a whole. I think my main problem with it is how disconnected it feels from the rest of the narrative. Where is the quest through the Night Land? The Last Redoubt? I get that this is supposedly the end of the world and the far future, but nevertheless I want things to make sense. It all was just so bizarre and confusing and disconnected with the rest of the stories. As I said, Wright has a talent for technobabble but the flip side is that at one point, it’s just babble.

        I’m not sure if I like this or “Silence in the Night” worse. “Silence in the Night”, in my opinion, lacked the urgency of the other two Night Land stories. I don’t hold its lack of optimism against it as it’s clearly meant to be read along with “The Last of All Suns”. My problem is more that at this point we have somebody with even more training and power in the farther future searching the Night Land for reasons not unsimilar to the second story. If the characters of the first two stories made it, surely this one will. There isn’t that same sense of urgency, and without the power of hope sustaining it the story falls flat.

  2. Josh Young says:

    I wonder if your disconnect from “Last of All Suns” might be that it’s not actually in the Night Lands setting, although JCW made it into one. It draws as much or more on another novel by William Hope Hodgson, House on the Borderland. The whole “Omega Point” setting (Although Hodgson calls it the “Central Sun”), the big reveal about the House of Silence, and even Pepper are all from House. It was my favorite one of the bunch, although any time I see a phrase like “Matter-wizard from Tau Ceti” I’m hooked.

  3. The Deuce says:

    It would have been cool if the early stories had been referenced by the later ones (not improbable if traversing the Nigh Land is really such a rare, memorable event), but alas, that was not to be.

    I thought the same thing, but I think that the reason that they aren’t is that they weren’t written in the same order that they take place chronologically.

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