Science fiction and fantasy

The World House

by Guy Adams


Writing in the tradition of a classic seminal bildungsroman of extraterrestrial literature is bound to invite comparisons, so Guy Adams is taking a risk. Let's just say that The World House is a smidge darker than Dr Xargle's Book of Earthlets, but frequently as funny.

The setting is bizarre. Failed antiques dealer Miles Caulfield is threatened by heavies who want to break his legs for not paying his debts when he comes across a strange old box. The box transports him inside a house that seems to exist outside the usual laws of physics and time. Miles is the first victim we meet, but he's soon joined by a Penelope, a jazz fan from Prohibition-era America who has escaped the clutches of a potential rapist. The contraption snares people from different walks of life and time periods, and brings them together in the house. There's a drunken pianist and a stripper from the 1970s, a Victorian explorer, an American lecturer from 2010, an autistic girl, some sailors, and more. They are all trapped in a malevolent house where rooms can have indoor seas and mountains, stuffed animals can come alive, and the darkness between rooms is full of hungry wraiths.

The Dr Xargle moment comes when we meet the Renegade. He's not a being of this world, but he poses as human, trying on the meat suit in order to experience human existence more fully. His aim is to study people, but he's as cruel as a child who fries ants with a magnifying glass, only he works on a much larger scale. The parts about the Renegade and his kind are funny and gross and shocking, but they have quite a different tone to the rest of the story.

As the book progresses the house begins to get crowded with a host of different characters. Some of them are as quirky as the house itself. The place continues to baffle them and frustrate their attempts to escape it. After a while it seems as if the readers, as well as the characters, are being led a merry dance. The characters move but go nowhere, but will the story arrive at a destination or simply circle round without ever having a point?

However, thanks to a few cunning twists near the end things start to make more sense later on, against my earlier expectations. This is the kind of book that relies quite heavily on leading into the next volume for its full resolution. That's not to say that The World House doesn't come to any conclusion, but it does leave you needing to read on to the next book.

I loved the characters in this novel. They can be as oddball as the weird rooms they find themselves in, and their period speech is beautifully observed. Whilst they're often funny they don't cross the line into caricature. This is an unconventional book that strays far into the realm of fantasy and leaves readers without a compass for a while, like the hapless sailors in the bathroom sea of the later chapters. So far though the story holds together soundly. This bodes well for the next instalment of the series, Restoration.

9th March 2011

Book Details

Year of release: 2010

Categories: Books

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Review © Ros Jackson