The Nameless Day

The Ranting Dragon: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-uk-editionThe Nameless Day is the first volume in Sara Douglass’s trilogy, The Crucible. While the author lists The Crucible as her favourite of all her series, many readers had mixed feelings about The Nameless Day upon its initial publication. Most of their concerns regarded the vastly different feel of this novel when compared to her previous works (such as the popular Axis Trilogy), and the unconventional choice of protagonist. Nevertheless, in my opinion, having read all three books in the series, I would still recommend The Nameless Day and consider it to be a highly worthwhile read. While it may not suit the tastes of all readers, The Crucible is probably the best historical fantasy series I have ever read, and one of the most intricately plotted and daring fantasy novels in general.

A little bit of everything (done well!)
Once again, Douglass showcases her admirable talent for seamlessly blending elements of different genres into a cohesive whole. The Nameless Day incorporates fantasy, history and romance, while also containing some particularly brutal and gory moments that would put most writers of modern horror to shame. Certain sections, especially at the beginning of the novel, are very dark and reminiscent of early Gothic works such as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, full of sinister clergy and malevolent secrets.

Why should you read this book?
By the end of the novel, much is still unclear and many questions remain to be resolved in the following books. However, those who can bear the suspense will be greatly rewarded by this daring and thought-provoking series and the many shocking and unexpected developments it encompasses. All in all, The Nameless Day is definitely worth a read for any fantasy fan who isn’t particularly averse to historical fiction and would like to try something a little more daring and challenging than just another Lord of the Rings clone. However, it does contain substantial violence and various depictions of religious figures behaving badly, which may be unpalatable to some individuals. Hence, you may be wise to refrain from lending it to, for instance, your fainthearted and devoutly Catholic grandmother.

©2011 Michelle / The Ranting Dragon. To read the full review on the The Ranting Dragon website please click on this link.

OzLit: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-1steditionThe Nameless Day, book one of The Crucible, introduces readers, not only to a new trilogy by Australia’s leading fantasy writer, Sara Douglass, but represents a slight change of direction for the prolific wordsmith as well.

In a former life, Douglass was an academic – a medieval historian – and there is no doubt she has used the knowledge and insights gained in this period to endow this book with an authenticity and richness that is often lacking in historical novels. This, however, is not only an historical novel. In The Nameless Day, Douglass has employed a type of historical faction – that is, a narrative that interweaves historical “fact” with fiction. Drawing on well-known figures in Western history such as John of Gaunt, the Black Prince, Joan of Arc and Hal Bolingbroke and painstakingly recreating old London, and pre-Renaissance Europe, Douglass locates her novel in a parallel medieval earth that is at once familiar and wonderfully strange. History buffs will note the compression of time and characters while fantasy fans will appreciate the otherworldiness and magic that creeps into the story.

In this world, a place and time where church law governs and the inquisition has deftly inscripted its presence, good and evil are at loggerheads. But, rather than drawing a picture of these events in a way Michelangelo might, Douglass ignores binary oppositions and locates herself firmly in the surrealist school. Angels and their voices are not the product of a psychotic mind, but are the lucid mentors of select individuals. Furthermore, demons walk the earth – sometimes wearing an all too familiar shape. As in the past, good and evil are not simply esoteric terms but significant theological and secular realities that are explored through real characters and significant debates and beliefs of a bygone era. And, as Douglass’ fans have come to expect, the resulting story is an uncompromising tale of passion, lust, brutal machinations and humour.

The book opens with the interestingly named friar, Wynkn de Worde (an actual historical figure no less (the appellation is a gift for fantasy writers!), undertaking what can only be described as devilish work. When he meets an untimely end, the archangel Michael is appalled and rapidly ensures the procreation of his successor. The rest of the novel, set in the late fourteenth century, explores the spiritual and profane journey of Brother Thomas Neville.

Thomas Neville is a cold, unforgiving holy prat – there are no other words to describe him. He is a goody-two-shoes with a holier-than-kingdom-come attitude that, as a reader, you just know has to shift. And, as the narrative progresses and glimpses of his unsavoury past begin to surface, sympathy for this misunderstood and cold creature is evoked. In the character of Neville, Douglass has created a flawed yet endearing (yes, even though he is all of the above) anti-hero whose transformation is both longed for and always-in-process. His wanderings around Europe and England take him to many places and involve him in many encounters sexual and otherwise. Colourful characters are sewn into the fabric of Neville’s life and as his perspective widens so too does his attitude to God, man and woman start to change.

Where the book will challenge many readers is in its conception of good and evil. Douglass, using the schism that occurred in cultural and religious thought around the fourteenth century, holds spiritual beliefs and notions of the church, God and humankind up to a mirror and, in the ensuing examination, the reader is invited to look through a glass darkly. There are angels condoning the abuse and use of women, ordering death to newborns while those cast in the role of demons advocate for human rights and the sanctity of home and hearth. The earth is transformed into a literal Manichean battleground and, as the book progresses, what were once clear boundaries, with apparent allegiances, shift and slide. For Thomas Neville and those who believe in the role of the church, what constitutes good and right is no longer so clear cut.

To explain any more of the story would be to destroy the suspense of the plot. It is a tight, well-conceived tale that will sometimes surprise the reader, especially when a well-known figure from the pages of history is revealed warts and all. But that is part of the delight of reading this book. History is popularised – returned to the reader in an immensely enjoyable and palatable form. The two-dimensional people from history books and documentaries are transformed into three-dimensional characters who live, breath, love, shit and fart. Overall, I found this book a joy to read. Douglass has breathed life and light into an otherwise dark age and come up with an wild and uncanny explanation as to why Western culture underwent this huge fluctuation in comprehension around the 1300s. For her old fantasy fans, there is so much in this book to satisfy generic expectations – but there is much, much more as well. Hopefully, it is these extras that will introduce a wider audience to Douglass’ work who will also come to appreciate the quality of her imagination. The Nameless Day is without doubt Douglass’ best book yet. History has never been so picturesque and quirky and fantasy has never been quite so wondrous!

©2000 Dr Karen Brooks, Department of Popular Culture and Media Studies, Arts Faculty University of the Sunshine Coast. Reproduced in full with permission from Dr Brooks.

SF Site: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-us-1stedWith The Nameless Day, Sara Douglass has ventured well beyond the mummery of Tolkien found in her Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption books, while still retaining the basic garb of high fantasy. And, considering the usual expectations of readers evident in sales figures for this genre, some might suggest the author is treading risky ground.

At its most basic, this is an alternate history, set within the conflicts of the Hundred Years’ War amidst the divisions within the Church between the political papacies of Rome and Avignon. Broad, at times detailed scholarship of the period is evident, and few of the historical figures for the mid-14th century have not assumed a role as characters, up to and including Chaucer. Using the epic scope of the conflict, one that gripped most of Europe within a morass of political and military upheaval and intrigue the equal of any to be found in fiction, Douglass has interposed into that struggle a largely unseen battle waged between angels and demons for control over mankind’s future, of which the earthly conflicts are but a mortal reflection.

Rather boldly, the author has chosen to use heavily and emotionally freighted topics and symbols perceived primarily through the eyes of a man more villain than hero, and has done so in a manner that continues to mask her ultimate motives. This is somewhat a gutsy move on the part of the author, as previously mentioned, the novel reading more as if a traditional historical fantasy than metaphor, with “heroes” such as Thomas and the religious overtones borrowed from Christianity unlikely to attract the casual fantasy reader, let alone the majority of those who comfortably embraced the largely romantic and heroic escapism found in Axis or The Wayfarer’s Redemption. Yet for those willing to bank that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and that many of the characters’ actions may well serve allegorical ends appearing poised by book’s end to become turned upon themselves, there looks to be rewards awaiting further development in successive volumes for what is admittedly a slow, not always clearly evolving story. However, the author’s reluctance to rush her story need not necessarily be seen as just another example of conformance to the demands of door-stopper fantasy.

But this appears a far more serious and ambitious work than her previous novels, and one where the author seems overall in control of her craft. Further, it looks as if Douglass is intentionally allowing her plots and themes to simmer, intending to bring her narrative slowly to a boil. For that reason, those seeking mere action to drive along the story will likely want to look elsewhere, as will those desiring a repeat of Axis and The Wayfarer’s Redemption. However, if the understated hints provided in this work are any indication of the author’s future intent for her use of allegory and symbolism, all of which appear but masks to deeper themes and issues, mimicking their borrowed traditions but subtly being altered to serve a very different purpose, then her strategy for gradually letting her story reveal itself may in the end prove well suited. This waits to be seen: on its own, this novel is not entirely successful. But as an introduction to a larger vision, one that is attempting to incorporate themes at the core of human existence, both within the context of past and present, this may yet signal in the books to come the announcement of a singular work in progress, deserving of further and greater notice.

©2002 William Thompson / To read the full review on the SF website please click on this link.

Locus: The Nameless Day

the-nameless-day-1steditionSara Douglass’ ninth novel and first in a new trilogy, The Nameless Day, is a slight departure from her highly successful Tencendor series, setting aside the more obvious tropes of fantasy, and concentrating instead on Douglass’ background as a historian.

The way medieval Europeans understood the world is starkly different from how we understand it today. People believed that they lived in a world of evil incarnate, where demons and angels walked the streets, and where God and Satan were in preparation for the final battle. Douglass carefully couches her story in terms of this worldview, which effectively blurs the boundaries between history and fantasy, making it uncertain as to whether her characters are really encountering angels and demons, or simply believe that they are.

This medieval worldview clashes with modern sensibilities, something that Douglass exploits.

At one point Douglass shows us the family of a talented woodcarver who has been required to work on a cathedral in Paris for a year, all unpaid and leaving his family to depend on the charity of his Guild to survive the honour. It’s an effective moment that clarifies just how different the world was.

Reminiscent of a rich blend of the historical fantasies of Mary Stewart and Guy Gavriel Kay, The Nameless Day is a strong opening to what should be an interesting and rewarding series.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan / Locus. This review originally appeared in Locus but can be found on To read the full review on the Online Reviews website please click on this link.