Friday, February 27, 2009

[JD's Take] Domino Men (Jonathan Barnes)

Wooo! Barnes wrote another book! This is the good fellow who brought us The Somnambulist, which I loved. It was a great pulpy Victorian mystery with a healthy smattering of the occult, the supernatural, the alien, and the downright weird.

Domino Men is set in the same world as The Somnambulist, something that took me a while to figure out since the time has been moved forward to modern day London. Still, even my legendarily bad memory was prodded before too many chapters had passed me by, which was a nice surprise. I have now ruined that surprise for you. Sorry.

Though some of the players are the same, this is a very different novel. It's less a mystery and more a horror story. Not one of those namby-pamby horror stories you get these days. There are no evil dogs or sleep deprived men wielding axes. This is more like Lovecraft with a decidedly British bent (you'll get to a point in the story, stop reading, and think "did Adams write this?". Honest!) and less of the racism. It ignores literary tropes, classic story arcs and the like. You know from the beginning how it will end (more or less), and then it does (more or less). Though he kept some elements from The Somnambulist (a surprise narrator, for instance!) it's clear that this isn't so much a sequel[0] as another story in the same world.

The bad news: some of the characters were disappointing. There were at least two (maybe more like three) parties that were described, pretty much everywhere, as these elaborate schemers. Masters of the long game, slowly setting up their plots to change the fates of men and gods. That sort of thing. None of that really... came up though? Like they set up all these elaborate plans and they were largely totally meaningless. I'd tell you more, but I think I'd spoil some things. However, to prod my memory after you read it, I'll give you keywords[whited to avoid minor spoilers]: [glass gun][old man waking up][domino men]. Here's the counter-argument keyword: [child actors].

That kind of segues to my other complaint, which is that nobody's actions ever seemed to make any difference. The story reads as a series of things happening to the world, and then resolving themselves, and none of the many character's many actions mean a damn. Of course, that plays into the whole Lovecraft thing, so it might be a wash.

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the solid writing, the engrossing story, the imaginative world. Though not a perfect gem, it's still a worthy use of your time and money, and I recommend it.

[0] Actually, my memory is bad enough that the events in this book *might* have been set up in the first, but I don't think so.

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