Science fiction and fantasy
by Richard Ford
Meanwhile Indagator Amelia is investigating a murder with the help of her heavies Bounder and Hodge. She's the Manufactory's equivalent of a detective, and a rationalist. She's doubly hampered because she's trying to succeed in a man's world, and she doesn't believe in the supernatural. But that doesn't stop her from hunting down clues to the mystery in some of the city's most filthy dives. Those clues point her in Blaklok's direction, but he has a tendency to deal violently with anyone who gets in his way. There are those who want to use the Key to open a portal to Hell in the naive belief that the demons on the other side will give them a high place in the new order, and Blaklok is racing to stop them.
Kultus is a lightning fast and extremely violent story. The frequent bashings have a kind of cartoon quality with no real impact on the people who receive them. So people who get broken noses or teeth knocked out are still able to talk normally immediately afterwards.
Another sign that this isn't a book for anyone sensitive is the language. Blaklok swears like a navvy all the time. Although his words aren't actually anachronistically modern, this seems out of place next to some of the things the other characters say. "This foul tome must be consigned to the flames," one character says. And later on a different one comes out with "The [spoiler redacted] here has quite obviously been partaking of the wrong kind of medicine, and he's come a cropper. You would do well to heed the evidence before you." Blaklok's potty-mouth curses jar next to this kind of old-fashioned speech.
However the violence and swearing didn't give me as much trouble as Blaklok's character. He basically seems to hate everyone. But he reserves some of his worst invective for women. He thinks of a whore he meets as a "fat bitch", whilst his innocuous neighbour is a "carping harridan" and a "wrinkled prune", as though these women's only possible value as human beings could be as ornaments. I found this distasteful, although to be fair he behaves abhorrently to almost everyone.
His macho attitude got right up my nose. "There was rarely any clue on Thaddeus Blaklok's face as to his thoughts", we're told right at the start. But he's far from a buttoned-up paragon of self-control over emotion. All of his feelings come right out of his sweary face like a waterfall of sewage. He's gifted with great strength and all sorts of demon-defying powers, and as the main character we're clearly supposed to feel some sympathy for him. But when his only soft edge seems to be a weakness for ripe vocabulary I found him very hard to like.
Blaklok did get some of my sympathy back towards the end of the story, however. He begins to offer some grudging respect to a character who deserves it, and he does get up and do the heroic now and again, and we learn a little more about him in when his past is hinted at. But these mitigating factors are subtle, when on the whole Kultus is too fast and furious for subtlety, and they're perhaps too little, too late. I liked the prudish but determined Amelia far better, and I would have preferred more of her in the narrative.
I liked the steam-powered Manufactory setting with its quaint but deluded cultists, thuggish judicial system and colourful warrens of undercity vice. But more often than not when Blaklok was in the thick of the action and facing down rampaging demons, I was rooting for the demons.
25th January 2012
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