This book is not an easy read. While not quite as impenetrable as "Finnegan's Wake", Hal Duncan's style is certainly unique; seamlessly blending dialogue and narrative. But what's even more unusual is his radically new and disjointed approach to story-telling, which forgoes, for the main, the notion of 'characters' and instead introduces us to archetypes; identities shared across time and space. A concept, a person, an entire reality may last for a chapter - or even just a page - before being disposed of in an almost casual fashion, only to be resurrected or returned to later on. There is no real central plot, rather, the story progresses from the viewpoints of many antagonists and protagonists: biker chick-turned-angel Phreedom Messenger; shell-shocked World War One veteran Seamus Finnegan; sometimes-psychotic/sometimes-psychic anarchist Jack; Thomas Carter, who is attempting to reach the limits of the infinite Vellum; and Metatron, an angel using nanotechnology to recruit soldiers for the coming war between Heaven and Hell.
Hal Duncan's vision of the Vellum, which encompasses many different universes (including our own), allows him to play with a whole host of otherwordly ideas and dreamlike landscapes. If you can imagine a more adult, more complex 'His Dark Materials' with influences ranging from cyberpunk to Sumerian mythology, then you're on the right track.
Perhaps inevitably, Hal Duncan's multiple plot strands and realities make for a whole lot of unanswered questions - which the forthcoming sequel, 'Ink', will hopefully address. As a stand-alone book, however, 'Vellum' is a thought-provoking and richly detailed read - although to digest it fully takes a great deal of concentration and an open mind.