…A book review from Purgatoryyyyy!
A quick word: though I have said a lot about the uselessness of New Year’s resolutions, I’m still going to make something akin to one. Because I’m not against promises, just against them being attached to January 1, and the promise I’m making has little to do with that, as it isn’t bounded on either end by 2017. But the promise is this: books. This year — and beyond — will be about books. I have a book to finish writing, and two books to publish, and at least 100 books to read, before another year has passed. This book is the first of this year, though I started it last year, and don’t actually care what year it is. Point is: books. Lots and lots of books.
This was a good place to start, if starting is what I’m doing.
This is the fourth book I’ve read by the illustrator Brom – the other three were The Child Thief, The Devil’s Rose, and the unforgettable Plucker – and I feel about this one much as I felt about the others: Brom has an incredible imagination, a good ability to tell a story, and a thorough obsession with blood and gore and hell. I still think he should stick to the illustrated novels, though, because The Plucker is by far his best work, including this one.
This is a good book. It’s a fantastic cosmology, with Brom following in the footsteps of Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne and others, finding a way to unify ancient mythologies with the modern monotheistic religions; in this book, set largely in Purgatory/Hades/The Underworld, the idea is that the One Gods (And maybe my favorite word play in this book is that one: the plural “gods” after the number “one”) have taken over from the ancient pagan gods and driven them into the Underworld, where all souls go. There the gods have continued their ways, trying to draw worshipers and maintain their own power and glory, but still losing out to the modern religions and to ambitious and godless men.
Enter our hero, a man with a mission: to save his wife and child. Whatever the cost.
I don’t want to give away more than that – don’t even want to tell you which character is actually the hero, because the first impressions you get, from pretty much every character, are wrong. That was the best part of the novel, for me: the underlying idea that nobody can be taken at face value, neither good nor evil. That was done extremely well in this book, and it kept me guessing all the way. Kept me reading, and enjoying it. There are characters to root for, and ones you hope will be destroyed; many of them end up exactly where you want them to, and it is satisfying. But there are also some that make you change your mind: first you want them to fail, but then you want them to succeed; some of those resolutions were actually the most satisfying.
Other than that, the world-building was great, as I said, and the visuals are brilliant at times: Brom doesn’t always have a great gift for describing things in detail, but the pictures he imagines, and then puts into words, are stunning. It’s why I wish he’d stick with illustrated novels, because when he paints those visuals, then the whole story is elevated to magic. Fortunately, this book has a set of full-color plates, illustrations of the demons and gods in the Underworld, which are beautiful. Combine that with a good fantasy world, a good story, lots of action and violence and blood and gore, and with interesting characters, and this is something worth reading. (And spend the money for the hardback: you want the illustrations full-size. Don’t know what they’ll be like if there’s a paperback. If you find it in a store, check: they’re inset about two-thirds of the way through the novel, in a group. Not necessarily the best part of the book — it is a good story — but they are a necessary part of the book.)
In his acknowledgments at the end, Brom says a wonderful thing while thanking his editor for helping him put this book together. He says,
“When I started writing this novel I never stopped to consider the logistical challenges of my idea. I, like so many creatives, don’t have time for such silliness. I needed to plunge in, chase my muse before she slipped away. I did not realize until later that in order to make my particular vision of purgatory believable, I would need not only to invent an entire history, a system of government, a political/social structure for both souls and gods, tie it into all religions, add some kind of monetary system, define magics and spells and powers, but also to invent a physiology for the dead, figure out if souls eat, drink, and if so, what. Can the dead die? If so, how? And, as with most mysteries, answering one question often leads to ten more.”
He’s never been more right. And he’s done a good job of this with Lost Gods. I recommend it.