Thursday, September 22, 2022


Sean Stewart
Completed 9/22/2022, Reviewed 9/22/2022
4 stars

This book started out slow.  Then I discovered it was the third book in a trilogy.  So then it made some sense that I was having some trouble getting into this universe because it was assuming some knowledge.  However, once I got into it and understood the mythology and backgound, I read it voraciously.  It’s quite a page turner, set in a post-apocalyptic near future on the island of Galveston, Texas, where there’s a city within a city full of magic, gods, and monsters.  It’s sort of a microcosmic version of American Gods crossed with the weirdness of a Clive Barker novel.  This book won the 2001 World Fantasy Award.

Josh is a luckless survivor of the 2004 “Flood”, when magic poured into Galveston during some sort of apocalyptic event.  He runs an apothecary of herbs and what’s left of modern medicines, treating the poor as their doctor since they cannot pay for actual medical help.  His best friend is Ham, a very large and strong sidekick.  When Ham saves Sloane the socialite from a beating and rape, he brings her to the apothecary.  It turns out Sloane has been going into the magic side of Galveston to bargain with one of the gods to extend the life of her dying mother.  Sloane continues to visit Josh after each visit to the magic side, known as Mardi Gras.  Josh has been infatuated with Sloane since elementary school and his desire for her escalates.  One day, when Sloane doesn’t return and her mother dies, Josh and Ham are accused and convicted of her Sloane’s murder and exiled to the mainland where they must survive among the cannibal remnant population.  Then Sloane returns, as do Josh and Ham, looking to avenge their accusers.

This plot may sound complicated, and it is, but it all flows as you progress.  There are more twists and turns in the story, even though it may sound like I gave away a lot.  The writing is pretty great, with terrific prose that’s not too flowery.  It was just enough to give you vivid images of people, places, and action.  It made up for my not reading the first two books of the trilogy, providing enough detail of the societal structure to understand what’s going on.  Stewart builds a very interesting, very different type of post-apocalyptic world, even though it has echoes of other books.  It would be interesting to know if China Mieville was influenced by the dual city concept in his The City and the City which was published almost ten years later. 

The characters are not really likeable.  Josh is cold and selfish.  He doesn’t have any friends except Ham who he often belittles.  He likes to show how smart he is and takes everyone for granted.  Then he can’t understand why people don’t like him.  Sloane didn’t grab me either.  She’s rather oblivious to the people around her, being brought up by the woman known as the Grand Duchess of Galveston.  Sloane’s mother basically held together the non-magical side of the island.  Sloane wants her mother to live so that she won’t have to watch her die.  

All the other characters are well-developed.  Ham makes a good sidekick.  There’s the Recluse, the woman who keeps Mardi Gras and the monsters from creeping into the non-magical side.  She’s almost likeable, but has a darkness about her that runs pretty deep.  Even the bad sheriff and the snobby rich people are portrayed multi-dimensionally.

I give this book four stars out of five.  It was pretty close to five stars, but the ending was a little anticlimactic.  And there’s a poker metaphor that Stewart keeps hitting over the reader’s head.  Aside from these two issues though, I thought the book was terrific.  Except for a few spots, it’s exciting and fast-paced.  I was interested in the main characters even though I didn’t really like them until pretty close to the end.  And I really liked that the book stood pretty well on its own despite being part of a trilogy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment