RogerBW's Blog

The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers 31 May 2018

1983 fantasy. Brendan Doyle, an expert on nineteenth-century English poets, takes a job as a guide for time-travelling tourists, off to listen to an unrecorded talk by Coleridge. But he soon finds himself stranded in London in 1810, fleeing from sorcerers, a werewolf, and even his employer.

This is the Powers book that I come back and reread most often. It's the first of his I met (it was, indeed, his breakout success), and to me it does an excellent job of making clear all its mysteries without ever over-explaining. Everything is connected to other things, and by the end of the book it will all make sense. (With one obvious and pleasing exception.)

Even though there's body-switching and name-changing, and even though Doyle rapidly sinks to the gutters, and below. Not to mention excursions to Egypt, and to the 1600s; even the bad guys' schemes make sense, within the confines of their knowledge, world-view and abilities.

All right, there's only one significant female character (apart from a Motivational Dead Wife), but she does at least get to do things rather than just be rescued. (Indeed, she has a Motivational Dead Fiancé of her own.) Most of the characters, even the villains, have reasonable depth to them.

Powers was part of the group of writers with Blaylock and Jeter who devised the formal idea of steampunk, and this could be regarded as one of the foundational works of that genre, but don't expect Amazing Gadgetry or Heroic Engineering here. This is a magical book, and if the magic has rules those rules are still baroque (and sometimes prone to argue with the magician).

He rolled his head and looked at what had, a few seconds ago, been Tewfik. There was still some bulk within the agitated heap of clothing, but most of the glistening, crab-like pieces into which Tewfik's flesh had broken up had struggled free and were crawling away in random curlicues across the dirt.

The writing is decent if not always inspired, and there's a sense of fun here among all the grime and squalour. I know it's a terrible thing to say of any author, but this early work is still the Powers I like best.

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