Friday, April 18, 2008

Victorian strangeness

I came on this book in the local Border's and, I admit, the cover caught my attention. After reading the inside cover flap, I knew that this was a book that I had to read.

In his first novel, Jonathan Barnes has created an all new turn of the century London. Blending some steam-punk, some Holmes, some horror, Barnes has something altogether new here and very exciting!

The plot involves Edward Moon, a once popular magician who has since fallen out of vogue. Together with his stage partner, the mysterious Somnabulist, Moon has filled the part of a Holmes to a London Inspector and helped solve strange, unusual crimes. Moon has come to the conclusion that not only has his show gone out of style but so has his methods of deduction when he is presented with a case involving weird and perplexing murders. As he tries to solve the crimes, he becomes involved in a larger conspiracy by a group with designs to change the very fabric of London herself! Along the way, Moon meets many strange and unusual characters such as Cribb who claims to be living backwards in time, Mr. Skimpole the albino co-head of the mysterious government organization known only as the Directorate and the two men simply called "The Prefects" who have a taste for carnage and murder.

From the first page, it is clear that the reader is in for a rollicking ride through London at the turn of the 20th century. Barnes captures the feeling of the old century giving away to the new as Moon himself feels himself fading into the past. The style of the novel can be puzzling as it is narrated by a character that we do not meet until 3/4 of the way through the book and, as a narrator, he does not always play fair. It is true that we do not get inside Moon's head but it is not necessary to do so. Moon is a pawn in this play and is well aware of it himself. Even though the ending is more fantastic than the reader has been led to expect, it fits into the context of the overall plot and makes for a satisfying close.

When I first saw this book, I assumed that it was the first in a series with Moon but I find that it was a false assumption. Moon's story does not need to go further beyond this story and, in truth, this book would be cheapened if it did.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about this book is simply this, "I wish I had written it."

On a scale of 1-10, THE SOMNABULIST rates a solid 9! It rarely gets much better than this.

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