Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Bookman, by Lavie Tidhar

Today I'm looking at the novel The Bookman, first in a steampunk series by Lavie Tidhar that follows the adventures of a man known only as Orphan. Orphan is an aspiring poet, part time bookseller, and deeply in love with whale biologist Lucy. Things seem to be going all right for Orphan when Lucy is tragically killed in an attack by the Bookman, a mysterious assassin that uses exploding books to attack the establishment of lizard people that rule the world. When Lucy is killed in one of the Bookman's attacks, Orphan finds himself thrown into a world of espionage, plot, and counterplot. Most tempting of all is an opportunity to bring Lucy back, but to do so Orphan will have to align himself with the Bookman.

I think my biggest criticism of this book is that there is simply way too much going on for this book to have a coherent plot. In my opinion Tidhar gets way too ambitious and tries to jam about five thousand different things into this book at once which means we never really have time to develop one idea to its full potential. I definitely think this book could have benefited from a tighter focus and sticking to maybe one or two plot threads instead of having multiple threads scattered all over the place running at once.

To provide an example of what I mean, let me just cover some of the things that are included in The Bookman. Orphan pulled a prank on Oscar Wilde. Lizard people have ruled Great Britain and its empire for nearly four hundred years. Professor Moriarty is the Prime Minister and Rudyard Kipling is a newspaper reporter. Mycroft Holmes is influential enough in government to commandeer mysterious black airships. Mycroft and Dr. Watson have consulted with Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. West to try to bring Sherlock back to life. Karl Marx is a member of the small revolutionary group run by Orphan's boss. Orphan meets the Mechanical Turk, Tom Thumb, and Jojo the Dog-Faced Boy. Later Orphan teams up with Jules Verne and Captain Nemo to travel to a mysterious island. And these are just the references I caught. I have no doubt that Tidhar included multiple other references that I probably missed. As I've said in reviews of other books I have doubts about these sorts of references, especially when you have authors and their fictional characters in the same universe. And considering the sheer number of things that Tidhar has thrown into the book, it left me feeling a little overwhelmed.

The plot seems to revolve around three factions, although there might be more and it's difficult for me to tell because Tidhar throws so many things into the mix. We have the Bookman, the lizard people, and then the automatons who want rights as sentient beings. Orphan gets tossed between the factions as a playing piece and he realizes he doesn't seem to have much choice himself in the situation but to move ahead on the path laid before him. So the result is Orphan gets tossed around throughout the book.

Maybe this book gets better if you read it through a second time, but I was honestly left feeling kind of lost because there was so much going on. As I said, I think if Tidhar had focused on just one or two plot threads instead of trying to include every possible thing into the book this might have turned out a lot better.

- Kalpar

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