Thursday, November 1, 2007

Kirkus Reviews genre review round-up
(November 1st issue)

Just a few this time:
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (Morrow/HarperCollins): "Turn-of-the-20th-century London is reimagined as a busily embattled hell on earth in Oxford graduate Barnes's insistently eventful debut novel. Shades of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Kim Newman's Dracula-inflected Victoriana surround the hectic plot, which is introduced by an unnamed narrator (whose identity, once revealed, may or may not surprise you) who warns that the story we're about to read is sheer nonsense and that he is not to be trusted. How can the preempted reviewer compete? Perhaps by summarizing a hyperbolic narrative that opens with the savage murder of a wealthy dilettante-actor (the first of two similarly baffling crimes), followed by the introduction of blas stage magician and defrocked detective Edward Moon and his assistant, the eponymous somnambulist, who's eight feet tall, bald all over and a mute who communicates with Moon through amusingly misspelled messages written on a chalkboard. Symbolic suggested connections between the moon and sleep multiply, notably when a character known as "the Sleeper" enters the action. He has lots of company, including the wicked albino Skimpole (a nod to Dickens), a kind of reverse psychic (Cribb) who claims to be living his life backwards, amiable assassins Hawke and Boone and the activities of a secret government agency known as the Directorate, engaged in monitoring the machinations of a powerful law firm devoted to the creation of an anti-governmental "pantisocracy" (based on one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's loonier notions). Barnes's energetic prose is an efficient vehicle for presenting one outrageous character or situation after another. Alas, they are legion, and are only infrequently successfully integrated into the plot. Racing through this daft melodrama is like topping off a slice of pecan pie with a chocolate pizza. It is fun going down, but chances are you'll hate yourself in the morning." (Feb.)

Thunderer by Feliz Gilman (Bantam Spectra) "Gilman debuts with a sprawling Victorian-style fantasy. Young Arjun, talented musician and linguist, grows up in a society that worships a music-god known as the Voice. But when the Voice unaccountably withdraws, Arjun decides to go in search of it. He travels to the vast city Ararat, home to uncountable gods. Just as he arrives, the Bird-God soars above the city, granting Jack Sheppard, a slave in a silk mill, the power of flight. Jack escapes, and uses his newfound abilities to free other slaves and empty the city's prisons. Meanwhile, Professor Holbach traps some Bird-God power inside a vast warship, Thunderer. Countess Ilona immediately orders the flying ship to attack and subdue the city's other gangster-oligarch rulers. After rejecting an approach by the Spider, a disinterested entity that runs a sort of human lottery, Arjun meets Olympia, Holbach's lawyer, and starts work translating rare ancient books to garner information for Holbach's mysterious Atlas. Jack's freed slaves fight with the white robes, child-warriors devoted to a fire-god who are being manipulated by other oligarchs to revolt against Ilona in ways beyond the reach of Thunderer. As Ilona's power crumbles, Holbach sends Arjun to confront Shay, a mysterious, possibly immortal entity who captures and confines scraps of gods. Shay so damages one of them, a water-monster called Typhon, that it hunts Arjun while spreading disease and death through the slums. As the city spirals into civil war and worse, can anyone find a way to defeat Typhon and stop the slaughter? Slow to start, and increasingly amorphous toward the end, but memorably imaginative, with intriguing characters and flashes of genuine originality: impressive and highly promising." (Dec.)

The Unnatural Inquirer: A Novel of the Nightside by Simon R. Green (Ace/Berkley): "The magical noir subgenre has become very crowded lately, but Green claims his own enjoyably edgy piece of it with this eighth Nightside novel (Hell to Pay, 2006, etc.), set in a perpetually dark corner of London inhabited by gods, demons and other less savory denizens. Private investigator John Taylor, possessed of a magical gift that allows him to find just about anything, accepts the infamous tabloid the Unnatural Inquirer as a client. Accompanied by adorable half-demon reporter Bettie Divine, he is tasked with locating Pen Donavon, who offered the Inquirer exclusive rights to a DVD that allegedly contains proof of the Afterlife—and then disappeared. Unfortunately, someone is blocking Taylor's gift. Can Taylor still find Donavon before one of several interested parties gets to him first? Taylor is great fun. Unlike some other noir PIs, he isn't perpetually getting kicked to the curb. To the contrary, he refuses to take guff from anyone, and he has the power (or at least the sinister reputation) to back him up. A dryly humorous, darkly quirky vacation from mundane reality." (Jan.)

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