My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”Everywhere he looked there were books.
They rose into the air in majestic columns, stacks and stacks of them forming a maze that seemed to stretch to forever; the stacks rose high into the air and disappeared towards the unseen ceiling. The air had the overwhelming smell of old books, of polished leather and yellowing leaves, like the smell of a bookshop or a public library magnified a thousand-fold.”
Orphan is a poet, not just a poet in desire, but actually a published poet. He is in love with a young woman named Lucy.
”I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.
--William Wordsworth, ‘Lucy’”
One of his good friends is Tom Thumb, not exactly the Thumb from fairy tale legends, but more of roguish womanizer who has decided opinions about poets.
’Bleedin’ poets,’ Tom Thumb muttered as he exchanged his pyjamas for a crumpled suit. ‘Always bleating of love and flowers and sheep grazing in fields. The only sheep I like are the ones resting on a spit.’
Orphan’s world is one of human, or machine, or lizardine. Though few in number the lizards are the rulers of this alternative Earth. They are intent on sending a probe to Mars, but as the plot thickens it becomes less apparent exactly what their intentions are with the launch. Lord Byron is a machine, a very realistic version built by men that existed before. He is intent on getting equal rights for machines and for some bloody reason he thinks Orphan can help him with that.
The Turk a machine that might be an oracle or maybe just a riddler.
When Lucy is a victim of a terrorist attack, a book that was a bomb or a bomb that was a book, Orphan is intent on doing everything he can to bring her back.
Dead it seems is never really quite dead. The very entity that blew her up proves to be the means by which she can be resurrected.
He is THE BOOKMAN.
”A monstrous being made of the yellowing pages of thousands of books, with a face like bleached vellum and gilt-edged eyes, who stalked him through a maze of bookshelves where no light penetrated.”
He has an agenda as well and like Lord Byron believes Orphan is the means to achieve his aims.
”We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”--Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan.
Now Lavie Tidhar infuses this novel with a whole host of famous real and fictional people. Karl Marx makes an appearance along with Isabella Beeton. Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes have small roles as do Harry Flashman, Henry Irving, Captain Nemo, Watson, and Irene Adler. Moriarty, yes that man, is the Prime Minister. Jules Verne proves to be a much needed ally for Orphan as he places the flying version of the Nautilus at his disposal. It seems there is an island, a disappearing/reappearing Caliban’s Island that holds the key to the puzzle. Quotes and allusions to Shakespeare are rampant throughout the text.
Irene Adler played by Gayle Hunnicutt.
This novel is an ode to all that Tidhar obviously loves about Victorian history, about books, and about the meshing of science and fiction. I’ve made several attempts to read and enjoy steampunk fiction, but this is the first time I can truly say I loved the ride from beginning to end. Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger which to me was a nod to what has surely been a long love affair by the author with pulp fiction. The steampunk is blended so nicely into the story with airships, mechanical birds that eat; and well, poop, and a simulacrum that was magically produced from Orphan’s thumb that it never proved a distraction from the page turning plot.
As humans begin to decide the future; as machines see a destabilized government as an opportunity; as the lizards may just want to go home, the power behind it all, much like the world we live in now has a council of war.
”The fate of the city, Orphan thought, would be decided here, over port and cigars, at the end of the meal. Was this how revolutions started? Or was that how they end?”
Did I mention there is a Binder? For there to be a Bookman there must also be a Binder. In this case he is a spider who may be able to reconstruct what the Bookman destroys.
Orphan must survive the alleyways of London and the shark and pirate infested waters of his ongoing quest. He will be pulled and prodded from all directions as the power players with their different agendas discover that he may be the means to the end or a new beginning. Orphan becomes everyone’s pawn as he tries to find the right leverage to achieve his goal of returning Lucy to his loving arms.
If Jules Verne or H.G. Wells were being first published today they would be considered Steampunk.
Tidhar shares his love of books, of ideas, of unfettered imagination to remind us all of why we not only began reading, but why we keep reading. An absolute delight to read.
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