Without Light or Guide is the second in Teresa Frohock’s “Los Nefilim” series of novella. Set in the Spain of the nineteen-thirties, it follows some members of Los Nefilim – the children of Angels – as they struggle with defining themselves, whilst working for or against schemes pushed by their angelic overlords and daemonic opponents.
Frohock’s Spain remains as vividly detailed as ever. The sense of a society on the brink of change remains, and is even exacerbated. There’s a feeling of hidden conflicts, quite aside from the supernatural concerns at the centre of the narrative – anarchist bombings and police brutality exist side by side, and the city at the centre of the story teeters between the expectations of the two. This also serves as a nice corollary for the tensions between angelic and daemonic entities. Here too, there is a feeling of an approaching storm, as individuals look to either keep their heads down, or position themselves for any coming conflict. A cold war looks to be gradually warming up, and the environment reflects that, the sense of imminent catastrophe, dread, and a sort of febrile vitality, very well indeed.
Alongside the thematic similarities, Frohock does some excellent environmental description – the sewers packed with a sort of squamous ooze were particularly vile. I couldn’t get away from them fast enough! There’s also the urban bustle of the city, and the gradual shifts in atmosphere – all precisely crafted, and environmentally and emotionally effective. I was pulled into the terrifying and extraordinary world of pre-revolutionary Spain, and didn’t come out until the last page.
The characters, of course, stay on the page. Several of them are familiar from the previous novella in the sequence. The central relationship, between Diago and his partner, remains an absolute delight. T
There’s a rawness here, a reaching for emotional truths which immeasurably strengthens the core of the story. Diago and his lover are both men struggling with what others think of them, and they of themselves and each other – but Diago’s emotional growth, and acquisition of the strength to commit, are key tenets of the narrative, and the author makes them seem believable and honest.
Diago’s family is a core part of the narrative; alongside his relationship with his lover, he’s also exploring feelings for his long estranged father, and newly discovered child. The latter, especially, plucks at the heartstrings and adds a degree of weight to the prose; Frohock approaches the parent-child relationship with care, and it comes off the page as plausible, as well as terrible and beautiful, providing an intangible emotional heft to the text. The relationship with his father is seen as rather more fraught, and here the sense of alienation and estrangement is captured masterfully, if brutally, in the text.
The villains…well, as usual, they’re rather scary. There’s a slowly building horror throughout, which is counterbalanced by some rather more graphic moments laced through the text, before the climax. The antagonists feel alarmingly alien when appropriate, and a few are disturbingly human. They’re all thoroughly interesting to read, even when being truly terrible.
As ever, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t get into the plot too much. Suffice to say that Diago is on the move again, being gradually drawn into the intrigues of the Nefilim. There’s a slow burn buildup at the start of the text, but it flows wonderfully as the tension ratchets up in the prose. The stakes are, as ever, rather high, and there’s a sense of characters living with the consequences of their decisions. It’s a creepily compulsive journey for Diago, and the reader is taken along for the ride, by turns disgusted, terrified and thrilled. There’s more of the Nefilim here than before, and Frohock’s prose packs a punch.
Is it worth reading? If you’re new to the series, I’d start with the first in the sequence. But if you’re looking for more of pre-war Spain, of a world where angels and demons fight a gradually escalating war amongst our shadows, and where family and love are nothing – and everything – then yes, this is a thoroughly enjoyable sequel.