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Nathan’s review of Vevin Song by Jonathan Neves Mayers

After finishing Vevin Song all I could think was, why don’t we have more fun adult dystopian stories like this? Seriously, so many of us went through (or still enjoy!) dystopian YA novels and nothing in the adult world gives me that same feeling. Well, I am more than happy to say that Vevin Song definitely scratches that itch while ratcheting up the drama in manifold ways.

To put it quite bluntly, if you like both high fantasy and monster invasion movies, Vevin Song is the perfect marriage between those two things. Heck, even if you just like one of those things you will find a lot to love here.

As we start the book, two humans, Rowan and Jason, are exploring an island invaded by the mysterious and dangerous Lightbirds when they hear the cries of a human baby. They save the baby, but Jason tragically dies in the process. Years later, the baby is now an adult, and she is about to find out that everything she knew about how the new world works is wrong.

Meyers creates a dystopian world that scratches some of the tropey itches readers have for the genre while also making it feel fresh and new. Humans are forced to live in these underwater pods because the Lightbirds are weak against water, and much of the human society acts as any dystopian society would. There is strict food rationing, assigned work-roles based on skill rather than interest, and the uneasy contradiction of a socialist yet totalitarian government to ensure humanity’s survival. All of this is old hat in dystopian sci-fi/fantasy, but Meyers brings some fun new elements. For example, because humanity is living underwater, they need resources from land. So there is a special corps of people who put on specialized suits and are pretty much rocket launched onto land. It is the little changes like this that make the world feel different than your traditional dystopia.

It also helps the book stand out that we don’t actually spend much time in the underwater pod world. One thing about fiction with cool monsters and alien creatures is that we never really care about the human stuff! Instead, Meyers takes little time to get to the good stuff, and much of the action takes place on the island nearby the pods where the humans gain their resources. This ensures plenty of drama as the Lightbirds are always around….

Ok, ok, so the book is not THAT mysterious when it comes to the Lightbirds. When I first started the book, I thought we would have a “monster-movie” story on our hands, where the Lightbirds remain this distanced and rarely seen predator. It isn’t anything like that. The Lightbirds, or as they call themselves, the Vevin, are not the creatures you expect them to be. I don’t want to get into too much detail here due to spoilers, but the Vevin, their culture, and their history is much more complex than it first appears. Meyers instills the Vevin creatures with so much detail that they feel like fully realized and three dimensional people, rather than just things that go bump in the night.

This does take me to my one (and really only) big criticism of the book. About 50% of the way through the book we learn a lot about the Vevin. And let me tell you, it is complicated. There are a bunch of names, groups, places, rules, religions, etc. that are thrown at the reader in a fairly few number of pages. I was lost and confused through most of it. I reread passages and still didn’t quite get everything. If you are going to read this book, here is my advice – just vibe with the Vevin backstory and get as much as you can and then move on. Only the broadest strokes are necessary to understand the second half of the book, so don’t stress about it! And for those of you who enjoy good deep lore, you will have so much to unpack.

Other than this small hiccup in the middle, the plot moves like a runaway train. The rest of the book is perfectly paced and I didn’t even realize how quickly I was just tearing through it. I honestly don’t even know if I breathed once during the last 20% of the book. The end of the book is one exciting scene after another, with some admirably horrifying results. Meyers really knows how to write an action scene and turn up the intensity. Content warnings a are bit necessary here; Nevins doesn’t hold back on the violence, blood, and a bit of gore. Characters are brutally killed in pretty much every part of the book, so if you don’t like that in your books stay away! For those who do like a little blood and gore in your speculative fiction, Meyer’s scenes are so vivid and cinematic that by the end you feel like you are watching a movie like Alien or Predator.

On the whole, Meyers populates this island with fascinating characters. The main protagonist, Marla, is particularly well-developed. She is navigating a complex positionality in an increasingly complex world. Meyers nicely explores that contradiction that is her life, desires, and actions. In addition, some of the other human characters (namely Marla’s brother Conrad and her ex Erin) are equally complex and morally grey (in a realistic and not edge-lordy kind of way), and some of the Vevin, like Astas and Trudill, are characters I definitely would read more about (particularly the latter, who in my mind was kind of like the “Sam” – whether of the Gamgee or Tarley variety – of the Vevin universe). Sometimes the total number of characters becomes a touch overwhelming, especially when a bunch of new Vevin characters are introduced all at once. I couldn’t keep most of them straight, and there seemed to be redundant characters that could have been condensed down (there a two masculine Vevin in particular who would have worked better as one character). The human antagonists (like Murph) are also a bit underdeveloped and one-dimensional (although how much I hated Murph was probably the point, so Meyers was probably successful in building that character!).

The author mentions in his Author’s note that there is more to come. So while I was pleased that this book wrapped up the major plot and character arcs in a satisfying way, I cannot wait to spend more time in this world.

Concluding Thoughts: An action-packed dystopian science fantasy that still wallops quite the emotional punch. Some of the deep lore is a bit overdone and confusing, but this doesn’t detract from the rest of this intense page-turning novel. Fans of action, dystopias, and invading magical creatures will find a lot to love here.

 

Thank you for reading my review of Vevin Song!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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