This review is also available on my blog, Stumptown Books
Let's take the phrase "Winter is coming" and make a novel out of it. Boy it sure is coming fast, let's talk about how fast it's coming and how no one is prepared. Ok, well, I'd probably take someone important, like an empress, and have her do something about it. What can we have her do...oh I know! Dancing lessons (ok so it was actually her little sister but it's the same gist). That's a good use of her time. Now let's take her general and wonder how he ever got to that position because he's going to question his orders, his supervisors, himself, and his abilities a lot. Ok this is some good character development, let's continue. Let's introduce a race that no one can figure out quite what they look like (I ended up imagining them as Argonians from Oblivion but I have no idea how correct that is) and make him an interrogator a la Glokta from The Blade Itself but let's make him squeamish about actually interrogating, more worried about his personal life than his job, and all around a bumbling idiot. Now let's have a prologue about what sounds like could have been the coolest character but never ends up being a point of view and only shows up two or three times for the entire novel. Oh and some sort of dashing young love interest that we don't care about. Now THAT'S a cast!
Nights of Villjamur took me forever to read because I would become so frustrated with the characters contradicting themselves. There was one episode of the new empress telling the albino general that she's really going to appreciate his advice in the hard weeks to come and she doesn't want anyone to take advantage of her. A mere PAGE later he does just that and she snaps back "I can take care of myself, commander." I threw the book down and stormed off for a couple hours. The writing was staccato with ample use of periods and hardly any commas which served to take me completely out of the story and wonder where his editor was. There would be many cases of 3 or 4 word sentences while he was describing something. Over all it was a lot of telling not showing, which I know is a common complaint with first novels but it shows up in an eye bleeding way.
Mr Newton is obviously setting it up to be a series (like the #1 didn't give it away) and introduces a random new bad guy at the very end, which only serves to overshadow and dumb down the rest of the novel. I'd say 90 percent of the novel deals with politics, while the remaining deals with winter is coming and crazy new army. Can you guess which part of that I'm actually interested in?