Saturday, September 22, 2012

Book Review: The Bookman

Welcome to a world where the Royal Family and the nobility of Britannia are Lizard-people, airships stalk the skies, and both literary characters, and literary figures populate a captivating alternate universe.  This one of a kind world is the setting for The Bookman, Lavie Tidhar's first installment in The Bookman Histories trilogy.

The story follows a young poet named Orphan, who, in the early stages of the book, watches as his lady love is killed in a sabotage attack committed by the sinister Bookman.  This heartbreaking, life-altering event sets Orphan on a quest to avenge his lady love.  However, he quickly finds himself in way over his head, as Orphan discovers a series of secrets that change the way he views the world and himself.

The Bookman is more than just a revenge story though.  It's a story with adventure at it's heart.  And I'm not totally convinced that is the best thing for this novel.  It seemed to me that instead of relying on a plot, or realistic results from past events, Tidhar chose instead to just throw Orphan into one crazy event after the other.  This free-wheelin' adventure can make for a really exciting read at times, but it didn't totally work for me here since Orphan isn't much of an adventure hero.  The fact is that he's more of a guy just caught up in the flow of events, and he never really does anything of use the whole story.  I'm not saying I wanted Orphan to be some sort of Indiana Jones type dude, but I didn't want him to be such a milquetoast either.  He wasn't any good in a fight, nor could he really use his brains to figure anything out.

Another thing that bothered me was the fact that Orphan, who got put through the ringer fairly often, never seemed to suffer any kind of lasting effects from the many beatings, falls and other various bumps, bruises and scratches both mental and physical that were inflicted upon him.  If the guy gets his wrist/arm stepped on during a fight, and it is clearly mentioned that he hears bones breaking, then he shouldn't be fine by the next scene.  There seemed to be a lot of that, adventure and action for the sake of it, but no real lasting consequences, going on throughout this book.

I'm not trying to be overly harsh, but this just wasn't the sharpest novel I've read.  I figured out some of the "big reveals" in the very early stages of the book, and by the time I was nearing the end, felt only a slight compulsion to see this one through to the end.

Which is kinda crazy because I really wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.

That being said, I also liked this book a lot more than I should have.

The negatives I mentioned above would have been more than enough to tank a lesser novel, but not so here.  Tidhar filled this book up with so many good ideas it is hard to not love this book at least a little bit.  I guess you could say this one would get categorized as a steampunk novel, but that would be selling the book short.    Tidhar mixes in a bit of horror, not to mention a bunch of literary characters and historical figures that help give the book an added layer.

More so than any other aspect of the book, I found myself really enjoying the world that Tidhar created.  It has a nice blend of originality and tried-and-true elements to make it feel comfortable, all while feeling fresh and new.  Even though I wasn't a huge fan of this story, I could definitely see myself reading on in the series, just to see what else Tidhar has in mind for this great world he has created.

Sure, this wasn't the best thing I've read by any measure, but I'm pretty sure Tidhar has what it takes to be one fine author.  He's got fresh ideas, he's capable of creating a world that is a unique setting for his stories, and he can tell and adventurous yarn.  All great things.  So the chops are there, The Bookman was just lacking in execution.  Still, Tidhar is an author I plan to keep an eye on, and an eye out for his future endeavors.

Grade: C-

No comments: