fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Matthew Cook Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker Nights of SinNights of Sin by Matthew Cook

First, a confession: I haven’t actually read Blood Magic, the novel that precedes Nights of Sin. However, kudos to Matthew Cook for never letting me get lost. Everything I needed to know was provided to me, and in a way that flowed naturally with the story rather than feeling infodumpy.

Nights of Sin begins with a harrowing description of Kirin, the heroine, attempting to shepherd her lover, Lia, safely through a dangerous blizzard. Kirin is a necromancer who has vowed to renounce her powers, and this is the first of many crises that will test her resolve.

Upon reaching the Imperial City, Kirin and Lia face new problems. The city is under siege by the terrifying Mor, a race of six-limbed, telepathic creatures of superhuman size and strength. Kirin joins the troops charged with defending the city walls, and must struggle to find a place for herself among the men, while at the same time dealing with issues in the relationship with Lia and with the constant temptation to call upon her terrible magic under duress. Lia has her own struggle, though it’s a subtler one. Now that she has returned to the City, her family and her courtly life threaten to engulf her again and keep her from becoming an independent woman.

I found the middle of the book a little slow going, though this wasn’t actually because of Cook’s writing, but more a Not-My-Subgenre issue. There’s a great deal of detail in this section about archery and sieges, and military fantasy is just not quite my cup of tea. (This is a blind spot of mine. I often have trouble visualizing the way various military maneuvers are supposed to work. Very few authors can get around this mental block for me. A map might have helped.) I’d have liked to spend a little more time in the realm of courtly backstabbing, but that’s just me!

As the Mor threat grows, Kirin finds herself drawn into the orbit of a dangerous mage with a ghastly scheme. There was a horror element to Nights of Sin all along, but at this point it truly becomes a horror novel, with a chilling twist that brought to mind Anne Rice‘s The Witching Hour. This is also when I became completely engrossed in the book and couldn’t put it down. These scenes truly got under my skin and scared me out of my wits, and then the bittersweet climax brought tears to my eyes. I loved pretty much everything about the Napaula plotline, though there’s not much I can say without spoiling it.

I recommend Nights of Sin to you if you want to take a trip through the darker avenues of magic, and if you don’t mind an extremely high level of gore. (Think zombie armies.)

I do have to quibble a bit about the cover — I think it makes the book seem more erotic than it is. I was expecting something more in the vein of Kushiel’s Dart based on the cover and title. There are a few sex scenes and some sexual tinges to the magic, but sexuality is not as central to the story as one might guess based on appearances.

Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker — (2007-2008) Publisher: Her sister was murdered, and Kirin hungers for revenge. Using the power of her “blood magic,” the young necromancer creates grotesque and inhumanly strong creatures by calling men’s souls back into their dead bodies. These “sweetlings,” as she calls them, are utterly devoted to her, and Kirin cherishes them as if they were her own children. But while fighting a bloody war against a relentless enemy, she meets Lia Cho, a beautiful and gentle woman who can call the power of storms… and soon, Kirin learns that there is more to life than pain and vengeance.

Matthew Cook Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker 1. Blood Magic 2. Nights Of Sin Matthew Cook Ballad of Kirin Widowmaker 1. Blood Magic 2. Nights Of Sin 


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.