The House of Storms
(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.)
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.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: