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Amber Review: The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar (Angry Robot Books)


Title: The Bookman
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Pages: 395 plus extract from Camera Obscura
Genre: Streampunk
Standalone/Series: Series
Release: Out Now in Paperback UK and October 2010 US
Publisher: Angry Robot Books

Synopsis

When his beloved is killed in a terrorist atrocity committed by the sinister Bookman, young poet Orphan becomes enmeshed in a web of secrets and lies. His quest to uncover the truth takes him from the hidden catacombs of a London on the brink of revolution, through pirate-infested seas, to the mysterious island that may hold the secret to the origin, not only of the shadowy Bookman, but of Orphan himself…

Comments/Thoughts/Analysis

I’m slowing entering into the world of Steampunk and I like it. I’m not sure what it is about the genre but it’s getting a small space in my heart.

And as an exercise in world building The Bookman is an amazing patchwork of sources all weaved together into something that is something unique. You have Lizards ruling the empire. Jules Verne living out his own adventures. Automatons. Martian probes. Airships. Pirates. And books. A lot of books and literary references. It’s not called The Bookman for nothing.

Poetry is of high importance and books are so plentiful they are almost worthless. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world like that? Not me. I’m not too keen on the Les Lizards co-ruled Empire.

It seems that the Lizards who rule with the Queen originate from an ancient island but as Orphan and the reader find out it’s not quite that simple  it takes a trip to the Island to find this out.

There are lots of gems in the details like the choices of poetry that start each chapter. The bringing together of several fictional and historical characters to play their part in Orphans story. The nature of The Bookman is also fascinating. As is the players around the story. There are lots of pieces on this chessboard. And Tidhar does well to keep them all moving.

As much as I love the ideas at play there is something a little off-centre about The Bookman. It’s starts with Orphan and his motivation. His beloved is killed quite violently and even though it should cripple him it doesn’t. It feels like a necessary plot point to have her dead so that other points in the story work out as they need to. But I didn’t feel the history between or see a deep enough connection.

And that’s my main issue with The Bookman. The main character. He seems like a vessel for the rest of the story to be told rather than the story being told from him. And as you read along he is a vessel more or less for everything that happens. A pawn in the game if you like.

And because to reacts rather than initiates events it’s hard to see him make of the choices that most other main characters make. He doesn’t seem to be in danger even when he is and his emotional outbursts feel forced and necessary rather than a release of something bubbling inside him.

There are also some strange gaps or at least some parts that feel like they could have been expanded or at least explained better like towards the end where the danger and the consequences really should be kicking in what’s at stake doesn’t seem to have the value it once did.

But saying all that with the tapestry of imagery and imagination that Tidhar is weaving through the story I was more than happy to go along with the mystery of the The Bookman and Les Lizards and they’re mysterious origins. There is also a brilliant examination of the nature of life from Orphan and the automatons he encounters along the way.

And as you get to the end and the world changes you can tell that Tidhar has a lot more about the world of The Bookman that needs to be explored and hopefully will be explored in Camera Obscura.

I definitely want to go back and see what’s changed.

Summary

An awesome world patched together from a treasure trove of sources all tied together with the story of one man’s exploration of his own origins. But let down by the details overshadowing the motivations of Orphan so it seems a little too safe and controlled. So an exploration of the power of Steampunk in creating a backdrop to a story though in this case it does overpower the story itself.

Now the world building is out of the way and the boundaries are more firmly established I can see Tidhar hopefully having more time to focus on the character building and the connection between the character and the reader.

Well worth reading for the ideas alone.