Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: The Bookman

A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees - there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.

The Bookman is one of those odd books that if I had seen it while browsing its very likely I would not have given it two glances. This isn't to say it wasn't interesting, but rather the cover does not immediately grab my attention (not in the way the publishers want I suspect at least) and the blurb only mildly piques my interests. To put it more bluntly, its not my usual reading material.

I have no prior experience with Tidhar, but his writing style is unique. Its just shy of being incomprehensible in some sections, with several of the characters speaking in cryptic vagaries or oblique nonsense. Orphan's ramshackle friend Gilgamesh (not his real name) for instance. He lives on the streets and is kind of a homeless prophet almost, cautioned Orphan at the very beginning of the novel not to treat the Bookman so lightly, but Orphan paid little heed.

Orphan is an 'everyman' character for much of the beginning of the novel, going about his business contentedly and not being a bother to anyone. He has a decent, if somewhat boring at times, job, a girl he loves and plans to marry and friends of a mostly reliable nature. He's not wealthy, but he and Lucy aren't after material wealth. I truly believe they would have been happy just as they were. Except where's the story in that?

After the Bookman's attacks hit too close to home Orphan embarks on a quest to track him down and demand answers. He wants Lucy back and is convinced the Bookman can make this happen somehow. Which is simplifying the plot and the outcome of his quest to a large degree, but that's how it begins. What it becomes is still a little confusing to me, since the writing takes a turn for the surreal with robots made to be literary giants such as Byron (but wanting their own individuality) and more secret societies then you can shake a cane at.

In the end Orphan learns a great deal, a large chunk of which he probably wishes he didn't and the Bookman's motives are made clear. Things turn out...differently then I had hoped, but I liked the ending. It was as unique as the style of writing so it complimented it quite well. Despite my reservations I enjoyed the book and found myself drawn into the world quite substantially. Its our world, but not quite--with a much larger emphasis on reading and authors, as well as a society where the power of words really can be more powerful then any other weapon known.