In the last few years Night Shade Books has developed a reputation for introducing bold works by debut authors. Zachary Jernigan’s No Return can be added to that list.
The action can be divided into three spheres. There’s the possibly mad god Adrash who lives on the moon and contemplates judgment on the people of Jeroun. Then there’s power mad Ebn & Pol, alchemical astronauts who each are committed to acquiring as much magical power as possible. Finally we have a trio of fighters, Vedas, Churls, and Berun, strangers brought together over the course of a journey to a massive tournament. Their storylines do, of course, converge, but to give more details would be running deeply into spoiler territory.
Thematically, there’s a lot to chew on. A surprising amount, considering this is a debut novel. At the core of No Return is the nature of God, of the worshipers and the worshipped. What is the relationship? And what should it be? Also Jernigan is fascinated with parents and children, both biological and sociological. (And of course this parallels the relationship of God & worshiper.)
Don’t worry, this isn’t some philosophical treatise disguised as novel. There are lots & lots of cool stuff here. Alchemical spaceships, dead races, magical suits that are controlled by the wearers’ thoughts. How many novels have both giant martial arts tournaments and spaceships?
I was impressed with the physicality of the characters in No Return. Here in this time of grimdark we are perhaps used to characters actually aching or retaining injuries. But rather than relying on the extremes that some authors use, Jernigan gives us the details in smaller, more realistic ways. Additionally, there was more physical sexual frustration than in perhaps any book I’ve ever read. Normally unresolved romances are dealt with only in emotional terms. Here the separation becomes a physical thing.
No Return is a bold debut and not for the faint of heart. Some of the subject matter may be objectionable or difficult for some readers. For the rest of us, No Return provides a deeply rich world with fascinating ideas and great action. I’m looking forward to reading his next book.