By T. Frohock
Harper Voyager, ISBN:978-0062825612
Paperback, 368 pages. ©2019
Diago, a nefil born of an angel-daimon pairing, has been tasked by the leader of Los Nefilim with finding The Key, a musical sequence that can unlock the barrier between realms and unite the nefilim’s voices, empowering them to save Spain from the coming darkness. But Diago finds it hard to focus when nightmares plague his sleep, dreams in which his stolen Stradivarius plays the same jarring notes over and over, prompting snatches of memories from prior incarnations that torment Diago with his past mistakes.
Now Diago has the chance to prove himself, to heal past wounds in himself and others. To do so, he must leave his husband and their seven-year-old son, venture into a rival stronghold to retrieve the violin, and confront powerful enemies who still hold a grudge and are out for revenge. His success or failure will carry consequences not just for Diago and his family, but for all of Spain.
I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but a story in which things happen the way we know them, but for different reasons than we thought? Bring it!
In Where Oblivion Lives, T. Frohock has penned a unique, captivating historical fantasy that takes place behind the scenes in 1932 Spain, France, and Germany. Tension in pre-war Europe flavors the backdrop of the story, casting shade across the already shadowy nefilim who live unnoticed among mortals. It is the business of the Inner Guard, those nefilim enclaves empowered by the Angelic Thrones to monitor daimonic activity, to track and counter dark magic. Between fallen angels, the rise of Nazis, and looming civil war, there is plenty to keep Los Nefilim busy.
Nefil are magical beings at heart and Oblivion’s main characters all have especially powerful skills. The nefilim require constant magical protection, as their work is often fraught with danger. Frohock weaves an accurate and esoteric tapestry of wards, glyphs, and magical energy throughout the book, including one element I’ve not seen used often: music. Sound. Vibrations of various frequencies, whether sung with voice or played on instruments like the Stradivarius, serve to empower the glyphs drawn by angel, daimon, or nefil. I took piano lessons for years (long ago), and was pleased to recognize familiar musical terminology in the text. But beyond that detail, this unusual element added a layer of texture to the narrative that fleshed it out beyond just reading the words and visualizing the scenes. I could almost hear the nefilim’s songs, or the screeching attack of notes from the Stradivarius, or Diago pounding the piano’s ivories in search of The Key. Other senses come into play as well in his memory flashbacks from the prior war—the squelch of mud, the stench of smoke, the pressure of earth-shattering bombs.
There is plenty of action in Oblivion, but I found it to be more of a quiet burn rather than a fast-paced thriller, at least until near the end when things heat up quite a bit. Anxiety builds in scenes akin to those in movies where the hero is sneaking around in a place where they aren’t supposed to be, and you find yourself on the edge of your seat, biting your nails and shouting, “Get out of there! Someone’s coming!” Tension between characters carries over from past incarnations into their present lives, coloring every word, every smile, every twitch of one’s brow, and interpreting their meaning—for reader and for character—added yet another layer of pressure to the scenes.
Getting to know the characters was part of the fun of this book. Watching Diago develop was a joy, especially given where he started and all he had to contend with since. The other characters each contribute to flesh out Diago’s world, worrying with and about him, striving to help him, making him feel like a part of something bigger, a member of an extended family rather than the rogue he’s always been. Watching him address those changes on his own terms felt authentic, believable. I loved his strength, his tenderness, his vulnerability. Reading the story gave me a thrill, but seeing Diago grow into his new role was the icing on the cake for me.
Oblivion is a standalone novel, though there are three prequel novellas, gathered together in one volume called Los Nefilim. While I’ve not read those, they are definitely going on my to-be-read list. In addition, two sequels will follow Where Oblivion Lives. The first, Carved from Stone and Dream, is now available for preorder. Watch for the third one on the author’s website.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and have even begun reading it through a second time; the layers are so intricate, so interwoven, I am already finding meanings I missed the first time. Deep, mystical, and inspiring, Where Oblivion Lives is one historical fantasy you won’t want to miss.