Tidhar, Lavie -- The Bookman

Victoriana with a vengeance. The first chapter mentions Detective Inspector Adler, Prime Minister Moriarty, Oscar Wilde, and Henry Irving (I checked Wikipedia, so can you); not to mention that whales sing in the Thames, an android Lord Byron is giving recitations, and the Queen herself is a lizard-person. The parade of historical and literary allusions is charming -- for about the length of the first chapter; then the gears start to squeak.

It's a pity, because when the story itself is in gear, it's very well done. The protagonist (yclept Orphan, surely a twenty-one Chekovian-gun salute of a name) is flung out of London obscurity into a desperate quest for the occult terrorist (or anti-lizard freedom fighter) called the Bookman. The tone wavers between Gaiman homage, Powers homage, and a pure hot love of the fannish genres. The latter is convincingly sincere; I wish the author had left the former in the margins.

And then, halfway in, the whole thing revolves in your hands into a dark, perhaps-Singularitarian breed of science fiction -- neatly taking apart the steampunk tropes (and perhaps some classically fantasy ones as well). This is an awfully good trick and entirely worth the uneven opening. I'm not convinced that the sequels will tidily explain the library (stumbled across early on) containing volumes by Ashbless, Eustace Scrubb, Princess Irulan, and so on. I am not, however, convinced they won't.

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