The shadowy wonderland beneath London’s streets is growing as crowded as the pavement above. From Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere to Dan Simmons’s Drood via Kate Griffin, Ben Aaronovitch, China Miéville and more, the imagined underworld of Britain’s capital occupies a whole subgenre of its own.
With his superlative novels The Anubis Gates and The Stress Of Her Regard , Tim Powers long ago established himself as the master of the “hidden history” tale. In this loose sequel to the latter, Powers again takes a poet’s biography and looks for inconsistencies he can explain by the presence of vampires. John Polidori, friend of Lord Byron and author of 1819’s The Vampyre , is our villain once more, this time prowling the Victorian drawing rooms where his niece Christina Rossetti dwells.
Powers’s vision is beautifully absurd. Ghosts talk through huge Thames catfish, Boadicea is resurrected as a violin-playing dwarf and the children’s rhyme “Oranges And Lemons” becomes a corruption of “origo lemurum”, a Latin incantation to London’s old gods.
Powers’s narrative has a barely logical, fever-dream quality to it; it’s Dickens as directed by David Lynch. His bloodsuckers are jealous ghouls who trace their lineage back to the Nephilim of the Bible but if this is a horror story, it’s one that evokes curiosity rather than fear, the literary allusions and wild invention crowding out any genuine peril. Nonetheless, it’s both clever and fun, and as such is a rewarding read even for Powers neophytes.
David Bradley twitter.com/SFXDaveB
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