Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Sleeper Awakens...

Just finished reading THE SOMNAMBULIST, the debut novel from Jonathan Barnes. It's a very good book, not great, but very good.

It's a Victorian-era mystery/thriller/fantasy, full of weird characters and even weirder events. The main character is an aging stage magician who moonlights as a private investigator. His "sidekick" is a golem-like being known only as, you guessed it, the Somnambulist. This is barely the tip of the iceberg.

What keeps it from being great is, to me, a sort-of schizophrenia. The author doesn't seem to sure exactly what tone he wants to set here or what exactly he wants the novel to be. I'm all for way-out stuff, no problem there, but there are many moments in the narrative that are unsettling when compared to other parts. There are scenes of such hideous violence and rather strong language alongside much milder set pieces - the result is bumpy. I also never quite "believed" the setting, i.e., I wasn't get the full feeling of being in London of the time period. If that was on purpose, it didn't work.

On the upshot, there are a few characters that I loved, namely the sister of our protagonist, a crusading proto-feminist, and a pair of weirdos that you simply will have to read of to believe. By the end you will miss them yet also be glad they are no longer at your side. They're that weird. And there's a revelation towards the end which was an honest surprise for me and livened up the action.

Unfortunately, Edward Moon, the lead, isn't that gripping of a protagonist and is more pitiable than anything. His housekeeper pulls more sympathy and emotion from you than he.

All in all, I'm glad I read it. It's plot, that of struggling against an unknown faction desiring to change London to its own vision, is one that I suspect the author sees much similarity in a certain organization of today. If you read it as I did, and you agree with the satire or lampooning, it can be rewarding.

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