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Thursday, 3 April 2014

Flayed men and felines

One of the things I thought I'd do on the blog was post book reviews when I uploaded them to other sites. About half of what I read I review for the great site Fantasy Book Reviews, the other half are just personal interest ones.

As ever, when you set out to do things, stuff gets in the way. For me that's been focusing my 'reading' time on tweaking the format of Infinity Bridge, proof reading the print version of Darkness Rising 4, and beginning the edit of DR5.

I did, however, manage to squeeze in a book which had been sat on the shelf for a while. The book was The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland. I was given this book by a friend, Andrea, who had met the author and who loved the book. 

It's a curious book, with a great premise, and is well written but there's something about it that doesn't quite work for me.
The setting of Victorian London, with its grubby fascination of the macabre 'freak shows' is lavishly described, especially the communal cellar that Abel resides in at the start of the tale. The setting is perfect for the narrative of the two main characters Abel and Eve. 

Abel is an immortal, able to regenerate from any injury and devoid of blood much in the way a cadaver would be (this is nicely contrasted in his work as an anatomist in flashback). His curse, if the aforementioned wasn't enough, is that he is amnesiac- which gives a nice device for us to grow with him (even if it gets a little irritating). Our journey with Abel is quite sympathetic- I liked much about him, although his apathy eventually got frustrating. And as a character Abel makes a more convincing and interesting journey than Eve, one that held my curiosity.

Eve, the cat-faced lady, never felt as rounded or as thought out as Abel. She spends much of the book simpering after her obvious swine of a husband, the owner of the Palace of Curiosities. Ultimately she gains a backbone, but rather late in the book and with a slightly disappointing climax to the story. The hidden voice inside her, which could have really been developed more, only re-emerges in the latter stages, and I think that was a missed opportunity by the author.

The supporting characters are good: Arthur, Abel's initial companion; Lizzie, the morbidly obese dancer; George, the cunning tattooed man; and Professor Arroner, the villain of the piece.

Yet despite its macabre richness there's still a spark missing for me. The first person POV alternating chapters didn't really draw me in, the story lacked pace and drive, and there was almost a confusion behind the messages the book tried to convey.

All in all, a good first novel and like it says on the cover- a curiosity. Andrea tells me there's a sequel cooking, which is great news as I'm certain Rosie could develop the premise further.

So, next up? Got sent an Asimov book by an old friend, Jason, so between edits I'll dive into that one. Old Skool sci-fi here I come! 

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