I can’t really remember if I’ve posted about this before but since my current aim is to re-read all the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, I figured I’d review them all in order as well. So after Something from the Nightside we move on to Angels of Light and Darkness. This one is one of my favorite Nightside novels. Not sure why but I really love reading it.
We start out with John Taylor on a very tough, possibly deadly job. His job was to find out what major player Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever is looking for. The problem with that is in the adjective for Jessica Sorrow, the Unbeliever. She can ‘unbelieve’ you right out of existence. So John is sitting in the one really Christian church in the Nightside, an old and cold stone edifice called St. Jude’s (fitting name for a Nightside church). He has a shoe box with him, with what he hopes will stop Jessica Sorrow from storming about the Nightside. Turns out that in the box is a teddy bear. Jessica’s own teddy bear and it is, in fact what she is looking for.
Taylor is beyond relieved that he survived his tete-a-tete with the Unbeliever but before he can leave St. Jude’s, someone else come’s running in, clearly distressed. Being who he is, John hides himself in the abundant shadows of the church, keen not to get involved in something dangerous so soon after his last harrowing job. A man in black (not that kind) with his eyes stitched shut runs right for the altar, begging for sanctuary. Something comes flowing in after him, a blackness darker than any shadow, moving across the floor.
The blackness demands that the man turn over the Grail to them. The man, clearly traumatized, agrees and hands over the package he was clutching to his chest. Turns out that the package did not contain the Grail. Irate, the blackness turns the now screaming man into what looks like a white statue, frozen in fear before it departs. John decides very firmly that he wants no part of this (which comes back to bite him shortly) and he heads off to Strangefellows.
Once in the bar, John finds out that it isn’t the Holy Grail that has come to the Nightside but the Unholy Grail. This is, at least in this story, the cup that Judas Iscariot drank from at the Last Supper. The cup is a curse object so powerful that it brings out the absolute worst in people. Previous owners are said to include Torquemada and Hitler. Needless to say, it never seems to bring good luck to the owners.
At this point, John hired by an emissary of the Vatican itself, an undercover priest by the name of Jude. Insert obligatory “Hey Jude” joke here. The price is 50,000 pounds up front plus an additional quarter million upon delivery of the “somber chalice”. John agrees and that’s when a target really gets painted on his back. Because of John’s gift of being to find pretty much anything, it means a lot of people want him to find the Unholy Grail, either for pay or under threat. John Calmly deals with all comers who accost him at the bar and sets off to do two things: find a private place to use his gift to find this thing quickly and to collect Suzie Shooter for protection.
He really should have found Suzie first. John ducks into a dark doorway and settles down to use his gift when angels rip his mind right out of his body and transport him up to what Green calls the Shimmering Realms. Turns out the angels on both sides want this thing to win their war against the other side. So naturally, they need John Taylor to find it for them because neither side is actually capable of doing that. John declines and when the angels don’t look like letting them go, he pits one side against the other and sneaks away in the confusion.
With the use of his gift right out, John collects Suzie and starts shaking down people for clues. He goes to an S&M club called the Pit and intimidates the owning cabal, the Demon Lordz. Despite the silly spelling, the Demon Lordz are actual demons. They’re low guys on the totem pole who escaped from the actual Pit for hot showers and coffee (no, really). They finally cop to the fact that they heard that the Fourth Reich has it.
The Fourth Reich are, as you may have guessed, next gen Nazis. No one in the Nightside cares for that lot apparently but they still get money from somewhere. So John and Suzie are quite looking forward to kicking ass and taking names but someone has clearly beat them to it. Every single member of the Fourth Reich is dead so no one can answer any questions. They do, however, find a clue. And that is another white human statue, a man made of salt (see what he did there). They’re fairly certain that this man has a connection to the one that John saw in St. Jude’s but he’s not wearing anything that would identify who or what he’s with. But in his pockets is another clue! And a weapon.
The weapon is the Speaking Gun. The principle is this: everything has a hidden name from the time that god created the universe. The Speaking Gun is designed to find/know this hidden name and to speak it backwards, thereby unmaking/unraveling the thing it is pointed at. Its a hideous thing made out of someone’s living flesh and bone and it hates everything and everyone. If you try to use it, it will try (and most likely succeed) in taking over your will.
The clue is a card from another player in the Nightside, the infamous Collector, who we met in the last book. The Collector does just what his name implies, he collects anything and everything that the is unique and/or historically significant. He doesn’t care who owns it. He doesn’t care who wants it. He is a horder. He wants what he wants and he will not give it up. So either he has the Unholy Grail or he is actively looking for it.
To figure out which it is, they go after a group that is known to work for the Collector, the Bedlam Boys. The Bedlam Boys used to be a 90s boy band. When they’re popularity in the real world tanked, they joined the Nightside and fell in with the Collector. In exchange for their (meager) talent, he grants them an awful psychic gift. They bring out people’s fears and use it to terrorize people into giving them what they want. The Bedlam Boys are in the midst of shaking down a chili joint (Hot n Spicy, 3 toilets, no waiting) when John and Suzie confront them.
John felt that they could stand up to the Bedlam Boys if they just lock down their minds enough. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. John is confronted with his worst, mommy related fears. And that makes him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (yes, I went there). John breaks free of their spell and breaks Suzie free from her fears. Now fair warning for this bit, it is graphic and disturbing. Possibly the most graphic and disturbing thing that Simon R Green has ever written. I won’t go into detail other than to say it involves incest. You read this bit at your own discretion.
At this point, they see their first angel in person. Angels, for some reason are bland, grey men in bland, grey suits. You can’t quite look at them but you know they are there. And they are far scarier than the Bedlam Boys ever were. The Bedlam Boys are turned into salt statues as the angel goes through them toward John and Suzie. John pulls out the disturbing Speaking Gun and frightens the angel off with it. But it takes all of John’s willpower to pry the gun from his hands. Its frankly traumatizing to hold it. This time Suzie carries it under the logic that she’s very good with guns (she really is).
They rifle the Bedlam Boys for clues and find a business card for a performer, Nasty Jack Starlight. They go to an old and shut down theatre called The Styx where Starlight is said to be playing. The Styx was shut down long ago because someone tried to open a Hellmouth during a performance of the Caledonian Tragedy (aka The Scottish Play, the one whose true name you can’t say for fear of bringing bad luck during a performance). Starlight is performing at the Styx for a group of undead with his partner, a life sized rag doll that may have at one point been a human woman).
Starlight claims not to know anything and tries to scarper when another angel arrives on the scene. Nasty Jack Starlight goes up in flames, which makes me fairly certain that this was an angel of the light and Nasty Jack was just too nasty to let live. Suzie this time brings out the Speaking Gun and runs the angel off and she too has a traumatizing experience with the gun. Once she and John pull themselves as together as they can be, they’re out of ideas on where to look.
Luckily, a bit of deus ex machina is on our side and Razor Eddie calls John up. He knows precisely where the Unholy Grail is but he won’t say over the phone. John and Suzie agrees to meet up with Eddie in person, at the warehouse of an arms dealer (not unusual in the Nightside at all). Eddie tells them that he himself had retrieved the Unholy Grail from a bunch of Warriors of the Cross (very hard core Christian crusaders – in all senses of the word – determined to bring down the Nightside) and delivered it to the Collector. However, once he did that, he started feeling like that was a very bad thing to do. So he tells John that the Collector is currently hiding his possessions on the moon, under the Sea of Tranquility (because awesome).
That doesn’t help them get up there, but they know someone that might. They’re headed out when they’re waylaid by Walker. Walker had previously said that he’d been ordered to move his people out of the Nightside and let the angels fight it out. Things have changed since the angels (which side we don’t know) contacted the Authorities and demanded they find the Unholy Grail. So Walker is determined to use John (in all ways possible) to find the Unholy Grail and he doesn’t care who he turns it over to. It isn’t his job to question the Authorities, just do what they ask.
He threatens Suzie and Eddie and when John quite rightly points out that the pair can handle themselves, Walker’s trump card shows up. A mercenary woman called La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Belle for short) who likes to make trophies out of her conquests. A werewolf pelt is grafted to her back (regeneration), dragon’s hide as a breast plate (impenetrable) and boots made from the leg skin of a minor Greek deity (speed) among other things. She guts Suzie and throws Razor Eddie out a three story window.
John takes her down in a suitably hard fashion and uses Belle’s own werewolf pelt to regenerate Suzie. Walker, of course, disappears in the confusion which is just as well as another angel shows up. Razor Eddie takes the Speaking Gun and distracts it long enough for John and Suzie to make a run for it. They don’t get far. Angels from both sides have zeroed in on them. With no other choice, John uses a special card made for him by Alex Morrisey and transports them both directly into Strangefellows.
John’s plan is not a very nice one. John needs Merlin. The Merlin, who just happens to be buried under Strangefellows. Of course, that can only happen if he manifests through his descendant, Alex Morrisey, and it isn’t very pleasant for Alex. Regardless, John forces the transformation using his gift to find the trigger in Alex. Merlin is powerful enough, even dead over a thousand years, that both sets of angels instantly stop their approach.
John has Merlin pull the Collector into the bar, where he confronts the squirrely little man about the Unholy Grail and eventually browbeats him into giving it up. Merlin then transports John, Suzie and the Collector to the Collector’s base on the moon. The Collector doesn’t give up easily though, and attempts to have his guardian robots kill John and Suzie. They, however, just start blowing apart his collection as well as the robots until the Collector finally gives in.
Once back down in Strangefellows, Walker once more tries to push John into giving up the Unholy Grail. Only it doesn’t work because John is a bit more powerful than people give him credit for. For once, Walker backs down and leaves. And in comes John’s client Jude. Jude turns out to be Judas Iscariot. The Unholy Grail was once his cup. To render it useless, he pours wine into it and blesses it because he really is a priest now. Finally, the angels leave because the Unholy Grail is now just a cup.
The book ends a little abruptly but I think that’s because he knew that more were coming. Again, I just love this book. I think it lends a bit of humanity to John and Suzie, despite how hard their characters are. So I highly recommend it. Rating: A.