The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, apparently, the universe doesn't want me to write a review, so let's try this a third time. :)
I wanted to like this re-read a lot more than the first, but unfortunately, the things I thought were uninteresting the first time around, like the Egypt expedition, were still uninteresting, but I stuck around because all the run-ins with the egyptian magicians was still pretty damn wonderful.
As for the first half of the novel, I'd easily give it 5 stars. I mean, where else can you see some unknown poet scholar of Coleridge and an even more unknown poet by the name of Ashbless turn into a time-travelling, swashbuckling hero able to make mortal enemies of near-immortal Egyptian wizards, and do it all the while in 1810 London for 35 more years?
The details and the plot and the funny bits are absolutely great. I like Doyle before and after his transformation into an orange ape, too. :) Perhaps more after his transformation. I love Dog-Face Joe, the body-switching werewolf, all the dirty streets of London, and practically every single enemy in the book. So many of them had other sides to them and evil is not absolute. :)
I still regard this book very highly, especially for the ideas, the wonderful ideas, the surprising magic system, the awesome time travel problems and its clever solutions. Even the writing is clear and interesting well past the middle part, and there was nothing in it to really turn me off about it except, perhaps, that it was too light and too action-y? I don't know. I didn't feel very invested. It turned around again, of course, and the ending was very satisfying, but not enough to knock this book up to a 5 where my *mind* thinks it should be, but my *heart* refuses to budge.
I was surprised to find a novel that was much more complicated and rich than I might have otherwise expected. I knew this was a time travel book, and I knew there would be magic in it. I didn't expect it to be forerunner of the steampunk movement or to be so literary. Mr. Powers put a lot of consideration into the lives portrayed here, and while Doyle was hard to truly love, he grew on me as he grew as a character. I really liked him by the end. There are many twists and turns to the story, and the plot is both intricate and complex.
The novel is in third-persion limited omniscience, which allows for a great deal of variety, while sacrificing the immediacy and the feeling of being in the character's skin. I almost wish it was written in first-person, because the sheer amount of detail and description in 1810 London was astounding and beautiful in the horrible way those grubby English types can be, and feeling what he felt would have been an extraordinary treat.
This is no urban fantasy novel. The magic was strange and had some very curious aspects to it, and pitting a magical viewpoint with a time-traveler in a closed-loop system felt like a stroke a of genius.
I have to say that the novel, while sometimes slow, was well thought-out and complex. I think it succeeded as a traditional fantasy novel, a traditional science-fiction novel, and also as a traditional horror novel in equal parts. I may be jaded by modern fiction that throws together whichever genres you like to make a goulash that's tasty and strange, or even some science fiction or fantasy that simply draws from the tradition of horror. This novel balances all three and even spares a tithe to mystery, romance, action-adventure, social-commentary a-la Dickens, and poetry. The fact that Mr. Powers pulls it all off is a testament to skill as a writer.
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