The Bookman, by Lavie Tidhar
Posted October 20, 2010on:
Lavie Tidhar’s The Bookman is part alternate history, part steampunk, part rolicking adventure, part futuristic scifi, and like another steampunk I recently reviewed the twist starts fairly early, and if I mentioned anything at all about it, it would wreck the surprise. I’ll try my best to make this review as spoiler free as possible.
In a (very) alternate history London, the British Empire has been taken over by Les Lezards, a humanoid race of intelligent lizards that evolved parallel to humanity. The lizards treat the humans fairly well, and heavily promote science and technology over warfare. Even Jules Verne’s dreams have come true, and thanks to patronage by the Les Lezards, unmanned satellites and space probes have been launched. The only fly in the ointment is The Bookman. Almost a V for Vendetta type character, he stays to the shadows, orchestrating bombings and chaos around events sponsored by the Les Lezards.
Strange yes, but the human populace of Great Britain has adapted pretty well to being ruled by giant talking lizards, and for most Britons, this is how it’s always been. The Les Lezards have been the ruling class for a few generations at least. Royal lizards aside, Tidhar populates his book with characters both historical and fictional, life like simulacrums, social revolutions, and much in the way of punny deliciousness.
As our story opens, Orphan is getting ready to propose marriage to the lovely Lucy. Hopefully they can live with her family, as Orphan has only a bed in a back corner of a dusty bookstore. The next day, Lucy is killed in one of The Bookman’s terrorist attacks.
Orphan makes it his sole mission to find the Bookman and avenge Lucy. There are rumors that The Bookman can bring the dead to life, perhaps Orphan can still live happily ever after with Lucy. Much to his surprise, he soon learns that The Bookman is looking for him too. Perhaps an agreement, an arrangement, a trade can be made. Not a spoiler, because it happens fairly early, The Bookman gives Orphan a mission as well: one that could change the course of history, but Orphan is no stranger to being a pawn, to being used. Maybe the Bookman is just using him. But without Lucy in his life, Orphan hasn’t got much to live for, and just the teensiest bit similar to Bellis Coldwine in The Scar, Orphan doesn’t really care what the consequences are, so long as he is continually working towards his goal.
I couldn’t get enough of the bibliophile-ness of the this novel. There are entire passages about Jack’s bookstore, and the impossible volumes found there in. Much discussion of the power of words, the power of information, what information imprisoned or let loose is capable of. Literary puns abound, and as someone who is only mildly well read, I know I missed half of them, but the ones I got had me laughing out loud. Near the end of the book (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler), Orphan finds himself in an underground book depository. The final leg of his journey lies just ahead, but he is sorely tempted to just start going through books that are piled up everywhere. I sympathize. Book lovers and chess players will find much to chuckle about in The Bookman.
Although The Bookman is a fun and fast read, I had some issues with it. I honestly feel my issues with this book are based on the fact that it’s the first of a series, and the other books aren’t available yet. This is mostly an action story, there isn’t a lot of characterization. Even with Orphan being the main attraction, I never felt like I got to know him. Yes, he wants to find Lucy, wants to live happily ever after, but what else does his life revolve around? Anything? I don’t even know how old he is. Is he a slightly childish 22 year old, or a very mature 15 year old? I know Tidhar has at least a trilogy up his sleeve, so I trust book two will have more characterization in it. I also felt the end was rushed, and that things came together a little too smoothly. Many times I say some 1,000 story could have been told in 500 pages, but this is one that’s the opposite. It needed more. More characterization, more reason for characters who should be arresting Orphan to be helping him, more explanation once we sort of find out who the Bookman is. I really just needed more out of The Bookman.
Final verdict: The Bookman is very good, but not great. Tidhar builds a stunningly fun alternate London, and has moments of intoxicating prose. I think the potential in this series lies in future installments, and once read as a collection instead of a stand alone, The Bookman could really shine as the set up novel for something wonderful.