Science fiction and fantasy
by K. W. Jeter
Dower's travels lead him through skanky gin dens, churches bedecked with fishing gear for bizarre ceremonies, and the lair of a science-obsessed madman. His life is threatened, but he's determined to solve the mysteries his father left for him. It's a story with lots of facets and a plethora of factions who often tend to pit themselves against the unlucky Dower. No matter which way he turns, someone is usually out to get him. He's rarely in control or in possession of a plan. He seems to blunder from one disaster to the next. He's a bit too passive and stolid to make a really compelling character, unfortunately. However, George's English reserve is a source of a great deal of the novel's humour.
Dower's character contrasts sharply with Graeme Scape and Jane McThane, a couple of confidence tricksters who seem to be on no-one's side but their own. Jane in particular is able to scare Dower rigid with no more than a look. But the story is full of eccentrics, spies, brothel keepers, lowlifes, and other larger-than-life people who pursue the prim and clueless watch-mender. The story whirrs with action, quite a lot of it farcical. When appliances run amok the results can be quite funny, although it's not always effectively scary. But when Dower gets wind of a device designed to break the world apart in a terrible cataclysm his investigations take on a new level of urgency.
It's a complex plot, made richer by a number of characters who are not only more than they seem, but who are inclined to wear masks upon masks. The narrative is peppered with crazy devices left by Dower's late father, who seems to live on through his legacy of chaotic creations. One of the best of these is his flying machine, which gets modified with sheep carcasses into a grisly airborne terror. It's one of several absurd, slapstick moments that lighten the mood considerably. However none of them match the hilarious climax that had me laughing out loud.
This is a high-spirited adventure full of thrills, spills and good humour. But Dower's personality is a touch too staid and conservative to be truly magnetic. It means he's a great comic foil for some of the more outlandish characters, but it also means he's not the most compelling character himself.
27th July 2011
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