By Lavie Tidhar
E-Book, 384 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
It is the 19th century and a lizard queen rules an England where a mysterious assassin kills his targets with book and authors live alongside their fictional creations. Orphan, is just that – but happy enough, living in the basement of a bookstore and working up the courage to ask Lucy to marry him. But when The Bookman strikes, targeting Lucy, he tears apart Orphans life and now Orphan must set off on a strange journey filled with automatons, pirates (both lizardine and human), Martian probes, criminal masterminds and The Bookman himself, if he ever wants to bring Lucy back.
So, if you know me at all (even via the internet), you know I couldn’t resist a book with book in the title! Especially a fantasy one!
This book is a wild mix of alternate history, sci-fi and Victorian fantasy, sprinkled with odes to a wide array of classic fiction, especially Shakespeare. In fact, there were so many references to other works of fiction that I’m sure I didn’t pick up on them all, but it was fun to spot how Tidhar calls out to those books, be it in the form of a character cameo, plot theme, or even a shop or pub.
This book is challenging to describe, as there are so many characters and plot points that Tidhar weaves into a story about revolution, equal rights, space exploration and of course, love.
In short, a race of anthropomorphic lizards landed on Earth and took over the line of succession in England. There are those who are opposed to them, chiefly, The Bookman. He is a skilled assassin who uses books as his deadly devices. When Orphan’s fiancé, Lucy, is killed when The Bookman foils the launch of the lizard’s Martian probe, Orphan is pulled into the revolution between humans, lizards, automatons and The Bookman.
Orphan’s journey is not unlike that of Homer’s in the Odyssey, with notes of Orpheus’s journey to bring back Eurydice and a smattering of several popular classic adventures. He quickly realizes he’s a pawn in a large game and constantly battles with his own moral compass as he struggles to decide which of the many sides of the revolution to support, all while really striving to be united with the woman he loves.
My favorite portion of the book was actually the Sherlock subplot. Moriarty is Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of the lizards, while Irene Adler is chief of police and Mycroft is well, Mycroft, with his eyes and ears everywhere! No offense to Orphan, but I would have gladly tossed him aside for a full novel on Doyle’s characters running wild in the world Tidhar created.
Tidhar is excellent with his descriptions – even if I didn’t always fully understand what was happening, I could easily picture how it was happening. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions – I love the mental image I created from this:
“Things lived down here. For one crazy moment he had the notion of a vanished tribe of librarians, lost in the deep underground caverns of the Bodleian, a wild and savage tribe that fed on unwary travelers.”
I mean, what’s a better image than rabid librarians!?
I have to say, the “final battle” if you will, left me a little underwhelmed and mildly confused. In the 2016 reprint edition there’s also an extra novella, Murder in the Cathedral, included which details Orphan’s time in Paris (which is glossed over in the main story) and while it was interesting, it felt out of place after I had finished the story. I had a hard time going back to that point in the story after it had already concluded and perhaps it would have been more impactful if it were included in the main narrative, but then again, it might have felt like the story was being sidetracked.
If you’re looking for an epic literary adventure that no only tips its hat to classic literary adventures, but thoroughly integrates familiar characters, or you’re into alternative history with a little sci-fi twist, I would recommend you give The Bookman a try!
I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter (he’s pretty funny).