Friday, October 2, 2009

"Scar Night" by Alan Campbell

Title: "Scar Night"
Author: Alan Campbell
Pages: 560
Genre: Steampunk
Standalone/Series: The Deepgate Codex, Book 1
Publisher: Spectra

Foreword: The minute I read the review over FBC I become infatuated with “Scar Night”. It’s been forever on wish list and thankfully via the amazing and generous author Devon Monk’s giveaway I had this book in my possession, but publisher sent books took priority so “Scar Night” took a place in my never ending TBR version of the tower of Babylon. When the RIP IV Challenge finally came knocking I was able to throw all scruples aside and enjoy this one.

What you can expect: Delightful. Dark. Deviously enchanting. It’s a triple D-treat for all the people in love with lush stories set in rich, new worlds.

Pros: I found the prose and author’s expression to be vibrant, potent with imagery and as a whole quite engrossing. I adore steampunk although I am not as well versed in it as I would personally wish, so the genre is a definite plus for me. All world building freaks like myself would be pleased with the setting, culture and mindset of the people in “Scar Night”.

Contras: I am biased and blinded by all the good sides to acknowledge the existence of any problems. “Scar Night” read like magic and I easily forgot that I had to be critical and have in mind the analytical task of delivering a review. It was that good.

Summary: Finishing at 500 and something pages “Scar Night” is a bit of an epic written in third person and varying between several characters, while the setting is mainly the city of chains Deepgate. However the plot can be broken into three major story lines.

Number one follows the young angel Dill, the last of his kind and sole connection between the city and Ulcis, the god of chains, as he is officially introduced to the public and steps into his church determined role. However his peaceful life doesn’t last long and is soon thrown in a dangerous journey to the place most imaginable with Spine assassin Rachel Hael and ancient and feared angel Carnival.

Number two traces the desperate steps Mr.Nettle, an alcoholic and scrounger, makes in order to reveal the murderer of his daughter Abigail, who has been drained of all of her blood. The last story line is the hardest to relay without spoilers, but concerns Archchemist and poisoner Devon.

Characters: For a debut author Allan Campbell has smitten me with his characters and their back story. I believed each and every single person in Deepgate to be corporeal and real and just waiting to pop up from the pages. Nevertheless I had my preferences.

While the coming-of-age story of Dill into manhood and living up to the glorious past of his species was delivered almost effortlessly and I bought it, I myself never had a fascination for such a story unless the character develops some sort of super power that could top a nuclear detonation and suddenly goes rogue. Same goes for Mr. Nettle, who is an incredibly stubborn brute, but for all the sentimental reasons that do not exactly click with me. While avenging his daughter’s death is an admirable cause, I didn’t find it appealing to read so many reminders about it as frequently.

On the other hand Devon instantly became my all time favorite villain, because he is from the charming and tormented geniuses, who have the strongest logic and most rational drive to do all the dastardly deeds that he does. That character is the human version of Pandora’s box. You would expect him to have bad written all over him, but the charismatic pull is so powerful that resistance is futile. In the same line we have Carnival, who is from the tormented and driven insane by psychological as well as physical pain variety of antiheroes I particularly enjoy. Her back story I found to be most endearing and hitting hard to the heart and that’s exactly what I want from characters in fiction, making me experience their pain or happiness or personal fulfillment. Last but not least we have church sanctioned killer Rachel Hael, who in addition to being an anomaly in her own micro community is a capable bad girl, who is quite capable at surviving. A particularly fond aspect of her is her is big and fast mouth.

Mind you this is just the main cast… The secondary cast doesn’t lack the magic spark, hard work and ingenuity and offer an over all a very exotic journey. From the clergy to Deepgate’s enemies and Ulcis himself, I was never left bored.

Story: I already did a personal summary of “Scar Night”, which I think is enough about the story for its plot is an intricate maze that connects, entwines and merges the major story arcs with the smaller story arcs into a tapestry. Ordinary book dissection here is definitely out of the question.

However I still haven’t managed to rave about Deepgate… To be honest I was never visually challenged by an author. I could easily manifest in my mind’s eye whatever an author could conjure, so reading a bout a city hanging on chains with buildings being wrapped around and pierced by chains, cables and ropes both amazed and proved difficult to sketch in my mind. The end result was staggering. Campbell knows his descriptive prose, which I highly value in any genre.

The city itself is a wondrous engineering, but it’s the people and their culture, religion and mentality that breathe life, establish various shades and create dimensions to Deepgate. From the mythology that holds sacred the abyss, where their god savior Ulcis resides, and the belief that spilling blood invites the hellish maze of Iril have left their marks upon their life style, where death is hold sacred and all are living in preparation for their arrival at Ulcis’ palace of chains to serve him, to their expressions and curses as well their prejudices to certain types of professions. Naturally there are steampunk elements that mainly have been manifested via the presence of propeller airships and later on through mechanized military contraptions of epic proportions. It’s a city I would love to visit, because each day is like an extreme sport. If you are not trying to keep your balance and not fall through the streets into the abyss then certainly you are avoiding something else.

The Verdict: As you might have guessed it I love this book and plan on keeping my copy even though I like to giveaway my books to friends. I think this novel will appeal to fantasy as well as steampunk readers or those that are into more weird and darker stories that border a bit on the gothic side.

What Others have Said so Far:

Fantasy Book Critic

SFF World
Strange Horizons
Next Read
Speculative Fiction Junkie

[These are juts the ones that caught my eye on familiar blogs and online places, of which I know the quality is top notch. If you seek more opinions, Google will easily provide.]

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