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Babylon

by Richard Calder

Introduction by K J Bishop

(PS Publishing, 25, 248 pages, signed (by Richard Calder), numbered, limited edition hardback, also available as signed (by Richard Calder and K J Bishop), numbered, limited edition slipcased hardback priced 60, published March 2006.)

Review by Nick Jackson

cover scanBabylon has a lush feel to it. Calder writes erudite and richly detailed prose which situates the characters first in the Victorian London of Jack the Ripper and later in the crumbling metropolis of a modern Babylon existing in a parallel dimension. The book is strong on atmosphere and there are some marvellously melodramatic set pieces in which major plot shifts are played out. I get the impression that Calder knows his material and wants the reader to be able to visualise his world clearly but this enthusiasm for detail is also one of the novel's drawbacks. The pages are cluttered with facts and at one point I began to feel some sympathy with the character who bursts out, in frustration, "I don't know nuffink!" as she is lectured on some finer point of ancient Babylonian custom by the precocious Madeleine Fell, the principle character and first person narrator.

The first person narrative is initially successful in drawing the reader into the frivolous world of Madeleine and her sidekick Cliticia Lipski as they fantasise about becoming whores of the Babylonian other-world. If the concept of sassy Victorian schoolgirls lacing themselves into seductive outfits appeals, then you'll enjoy the first part of the novel as Calder dwells enthusiastically on the details of satin corsets and steel busks cutting into pubescent flesh. However, although convincing as the voice of an adolescent at sea in a world of predatory men, the first person narrative hampers the later stages of the novel where a sinister sub-plot overwhelms the romanticised school-girl adventure. With the abrupt termination of the first person narrative, the novel's dénouement comes across as intellectually tricksy rather than chilling.

Calder has produced some sumptuous settings with tantalising glimpses of a fantasy world populated by a race of minotaurs and fabulous creatures. It is disappointing that the effort the author puts into defining the history of this world is not carried through in describing these inhabitants who remain shadowy and uncertain presences. Whilst the book jacket promises blood and gore and there are intimations of ravishment and slaughter scattered throughout the first part of the novel, the second and third parts deliver little of either and the melodramatic quality of the set pieces seems increasingly at odds with the cerebral working out of the novel's conclusion.

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