A few months ago, I stumbled onto a short, one-paragraph story synopsis that instantly caught my attention, and I found myself so intrigued that I went out and bought the novel on the spot. The author was new, and had an interesting but perhaps unlikely background for a novelist. (In hindsight, this may not be the case after all, given the novel’s very dark fantasy subject matter). Nonetheless, by the time that I finished the four page prologue I knew that I was in for a real treat and more exciting yet, that I might be in on something new and perhaps truly visionary. As it turned out, I was correct.
The novel is called Scar Night, and the author is Alan Campbell. Picture this: an ancient, crumbling city hangs suspended above a seemingly bottomless abyss on a series of gargantuan chains; a network of lesser chains, cables, and ropes support outlying districts filled with warehouses, shops, residences, and even the wooden walkways and thoroughfares that connect them all together. This is Deepgate, which lies at the heart of Campbell’s world. The residents of this improbable city worship Lord Ulcis, the god of chains, and each month at the dark of the moon they are tormented by a demonic angel known as Carnival who flies over the rooftops searching for unwary victims.
The richly Victorian atmosphere in Campbell’s story is palpable. For me, it was instantly reminiscent of my favorite works of literature in the English language; the Gormenghast novels of the great British fantasist Mervyn Peake (read my commentary on these novels elsewhere here and also on my Nightfall Books website). Mix Peake with Neil Gaiman (think Neverwhere), stir in some Fritz Leiber and sprinkle on a little Jack Vance, and you may start to get a feel for how the story reads. That said, whether or not any of these writers were influences on Campbell, this novel is remarkably original and is an absolutely stunning debut effort. It is the experience of a novel like this one that is why so many of us love to read.
I won’t spoil any surprises for you, and there are many in this book. Suffice it to say that it is a rare and wonderous, albeit dark and sometimes gruesome, adventure that awaits you.
Fortunately, Campbell is following this book with both a prequel and a sequel! I’ll bring you a review of the former, titled Lye Street, here soon. In the meantime, if you’d like to preorder a copy, you can do so at Nightfall Books. The latter, alternatively titled Penny Devil and Iron Angel in the UK and US, will be released later this year.
Until next time, happy reading!