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The House of Storms

by Ian R Macleod

(Simon & Schuster, £12.99, 457 pages, hardback, published 7 February 2005. Simon & Schuster, 6.99, 457 pages, paperback, first published 2006, this edition published 6 February 2006.)

Review by Steve Palmer

cover scanIn The Light Ages, Ian R MacLeod presented the reader with a wonderful mixture of dark fantasy, gritty working-class graft, Dickensian squalor and a mellifluous style of writing. The book was wonderful: engaging, peopled with marvellous characters, original. This second novel is similar, but not quite so.

The story takes place after the events of The Light Ages. No knowledge of that book is required to read the new one, though familiarity with its tale would be useful. The two main characters are a mother and her son, the former Great Grandmistress Alice Meynell of the Guild of Telegraphers, the latter her son Ralph, who is dying. Alice takes Ralph to a house near Bristol, a country place owned by her guild, where she expects her son to pass away. But he does not. He meets the naïve fisherman's girl Marion Price, and, in due course, falls in love.

Alas for Ralph, his mother is a monster. She lusts after power. Also, she has discovered a curious quirk of the aetherial telegraphy system that seems to allow her powers of mental dislocation. She happily murders her way through a few colleagues as she progresses. Ranged against her are what seem puny forces, spearheaded (albeit uncertainly and without much understanding) by Ralph and Marion. Then events rush forward, and civil war is mooted...

The novel is superbly written, engaging, in places compelling. It does not seem to have quite the magic of the first novel -- there are no scenes with the intensity of those wonderful northern working-class parts of The Light Ages, and the story seems more rambling -- but it is nonetheless a work of originality and charm. While the pacing and style of Alice Meynell's rush to power, via aetherial control and semi-insanity, are handled with aplomb, the appearance of a theory of evolution (and its uncertain name) seem in comparison rather clumsy. However the characters are always fascinating, particularly the main three. Inventive beasts and situations are especially good in the civil war sections. I found the ending, however (as I did with The Light Ages), ever so slightly a damp squib.

That aside, this is an author from whom we can expect brilliance. The House Of Storms is leagues ahead of most of its rivals.

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