Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Capsule Review: “Lye Street” by Alan Campbell

Campbell-LyeStreetKindlingNovella prequel to Deepgate Codex

The Greene family is cursed. Every fifty years Deepgate’s scarred angel, Carnival, returns to murder another descendant. Now, five hundred years after the first victim’s death, Sal Greene is facing his own doom. His time has almost run out. In a desperate attempt to break the chain of violence and save his family, he summons a demon to the chained city: a warrior he hopes is powerful enough to stand against the angel.

Yet the creature which arrives in Deepgate is not quite the legendary mercenary Sal Greene was expecting.

This prequel to Alan Campbell’s first trilogy, The Deepgate Codex, offers a perfect, bargain-priced introduction to the author’s work, and certainly whet my appetite for more story set in this world.

While I’ve only read one of Campbell’s books (this year’s excellent Sea of Ghosts), he has a reputation for superb writing. In Lye Street, this skill is certainly on display. The author evokes his gothic, dark and original world perfectly. Reading this novella left me very eager to get stuck in to The Deepgate Codex.

His prose flows very well, and his writing is wonderful to read. The dialogue is always realistic and engaging, and often witty. Passages of description (be it of the city, characters or atmosphere) are great, but never feel over-done. There are some original, quirky takes on some classic fantasy tropes (demons, in particular), and the characters are all well-rounded and realistic, not to mention often sympathetic. Carnival in particular is a complex and tragic figure, suffering from amnesia yet stuck in a cycle of violence that appears never-ending. The Spine (this world’s religious sect) is only really introduced, so I assume the novels will contain far more information and description – it will be interesting to see what Campbell does with the religion and its agents in the novels.

As a novella, this is only a taster of this world, but Campbell does a great job of bringing it to life on the page (or Kindle screen, really), and we are given vivid descriptions of the world and its characters. The description is never too much, which helps keep the pace of the story going. It’s perhaps become cliché to mention Mervyn Peake in a review of Alan Campbell’s work, but there is an air of Gormenghast-ian gothic wonder about the story.

The novella is not wholly satisfying, I must admit – this is not a complaint about Campbell’s writing or plotting, rather the length of the novella. I have always found full-length novels more satisfying than shorter works, so there is a natural lack of exposition and expansiveness in Lye Street that would not be lacking (I assume) in Scar Night, Iron Angel and God of Clocks. Knowing that there are three novels that follow this, however, certainly took away the majority of my concerns.

Lye Street should make anyone hungry for more. The characters, story, world, and magic (thaumaturgy – very important in this novella) are all great and one is left with a sense of great things to come in the full-length novels. There is a great, if bloody and brutal, ending, which brought this story to a very satisfying conclusion.

(The lengthy sample of Sea of Ghosts will also give new readers a great taste of Campbell’s latest novel as well.)

Highly recommended for all fantasy fans (with Kindles).

[An interview with Alan Campbell]

Buy the Novella: Amazon UK & US

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review, thanks - I plan to pick up Campbell's 'Scar Night' one day - I've been told it's very good.