Thursday, March 29, 2007

SCAR NIGHT: Urban Fantasy by Alan Campbell

This is what hooked me (from a starred PW review) into pre-ordering the paperback (emphases mine):

Campbell sets his stunning debut fantasy in Deepgate, a town wreathed in chains that keep it hanging suspended over a bottomless abyss, peopled by worshippers of Lord Ulcis, the god of chains, and tormented by a mad angel named Carnival. The author, who was a video game designer, renders Deepgate beautifully. It's a complex city of creaking metal links, stone and shadow, inhabited by priests, assassins and the boy-angel Dill, who will lead a journey into the abyss in a desperate attempt to save the city. Campbell has Neil Gaiman's gift for lushly dark stories and compelling antiheroes, and effortlessly channels the Victorian atmospherics of writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake as well. This imaginative first novel will have plenty of readers anxiously awaiting his follow-up.

Read the STRANGE HORIZONS review. Here is an excerpt:

Utilising elements of Christian and vampire mythology, Campbell also borrows freely from sources like Ghormenghast, Dickens, and the traditional coming of age parable. Re-inventing rather than recycling, (it's not often you get to read about a vampire angel whose modus operandi also hints at lycanthropic tendencies), Campbell serves up a dark, explosive fantasy that singles him out as one to watch.

His prose is vivid and evocative; Deepgate in particular is lovingly depicted, in passages which are as aural and tactile as they are visual. Here you're haunted by the creak and groan of a thousand chains of various sizes, a "tangle of metal that the smallest breath of wind set quivering and singing ", and elsewhere by smog so thick that "when you spat you looked to check if it was black" (p. 54). When it does come to visual description, Campbell has the eye of a film director, creating almost cinematic images in the mind:

A smoking fuel burner set low on the wall cast long shadows as he walked, intermittently covering and revealing the bruises on the two guards' faces. (p.268)

He's also unafraid to discard or re-mould fantasy traditions as he sees fit; if, for example, many fantasy writers remain loyal to the notion of a particular type of old-world vernacular, Campbell sees no reason not to use contemporary colloquialisms from our world if it will make his dialogue more fun to read:

Blood streaked the God's battered face. His massive chest rose and fell from exertion. He said, "You, my child, have seriously pissed me off." (p. 480)

If you've read it, tell me what you thought.

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