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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "File under Steampunk" apparently
Well, what to say?

How about reference points? Think of a post-modern "His Dark Materials". Think of "The Matrix" set in the Victorian era. Think of pirates, Jack the Ripper, Conan Doyle and Jules Verne thrown into a melting pot with alien lizards, alternate histories, revolutions and horcruxes.

How about style? Tidhar's prose is lucid, literary and...
Published on 2 Feb 2010 by P. M. Fernandez

versus
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stylish Yet Insubstantial Steampunk From An Emerging Master
Orphan loves Lucy. He loves her "the way people do in romantic novels, from the first page, beyond even the end," and when The Bookman kicks off, he's either about to propose to her, or else bed the little strumpet. One way or another, as Orphan admits to Gilgamesh, a broken old poet making ends meet on the street and father-figure to the young scallywag in lieu of his...
Published on 2 Oct 2010 by Niall Alexander


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bookish but incomplete, 15 Feb 2010
By 
I. P. Gearing (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Starting below Waterloo Bridge with the character of the first, extant, written epic, Gilgamesh and a young man named Orphan, the plot moves with the fluidity and power of the Thames itself. Murder and mayhem follow in quick succession and the initial cast list is whittled down, actors of considerable historical repute are decapitated, bound, gagged and decomposing and history and literature are given twist upon twist, for this is steampunk and a cut above your usual steampunk fayre at that.

Yet it is still flawed mainly by its stylistic contradictions: the knowing irony of the reinvented historical figure mostly doesn't quite come off, occasionally gratingly; the Men from Porlock are an excellent, if brief, diversion, but the insertion of lists-as-scenery on at least two occasions stalls the plot because the charterers do not interact with them. This story tends to stick in the mind because of the incidentals hung around its branches and though it is a piece of considerable invention there is a better book trying to get out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite there, but promising, 11 Feb 2010
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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This was a really difficult book to rate. Based on ideas and general zing, it would be a 5 - but for me two things hold it back, so I've given it 3 (though I think 3.5 or 3.75 would be fairer).

Why mark it down? First, especially in the opening sections, the tone and setting are a bit clunky. The more steampunk I read, the more it seems to me that these are vital, and really difficult, to get right. It's a fine line. On the one hand, missteps in phrasing such as modern expressions quickly strip away the illusion needed to make a book like this work. On the other, use too much faux Conan Doyle language, and the book will just sound like a send up from the start. For me, this book fails in the first direction - the language and background doesn't quite convince: did anyone talk about "brands" of whisky in the 19th century? Would a butler have served drinks? Shouldn't it have been "cockerels" rather than roosters in Victorian England?

You might say I'm missing the point. After all, this is a book about an alternate history where Victoria is a lizard queen ruling a world empire. Who's to say how people spoke? But I do think that the tone is crucial, and while the language comes close to being brilliant, it's not quite there. On entering a bookshop, the hero is greeted by the smell of books new, old and ancient, like "a horde of somewhat dysfunctional relatives at a family event". A family what? Doesn't it sound so much better if you just say "wedding" (and drop "dysfunctional"; it doesn't sound very Victorian, and it's not needed - we all know what families are like!) But that is so nearly a wonderful metaphor. With a little extra editorial input, perhaps, this book could have been written superbly, instead of merely well. (That might also have prevented one howler, where it is asserted that a ship was built in Birmingham).

The book has so many flashes of comic brilliance. Apart from meeting a string of characters from Sherlock Holmes - the detective himself, of course, Moriarty, Mycroft, and the great Irene Adler (now Inspector Adler of the Yard), Mrs Beeton, Karl Marx - there is a running joke where fictitious book titles from across the length and breadth of English literature turn up on the shelves (so, we have Goldstein's notorious book from 1984, Whiffle's definitive tome on care of the pig from PG Wodehouse's Blandings stories, the memoirs of that great hero of the Empire, Col. Flashman, as referred to in George MacDonald Fraser's stories, even Princes Irulan's memoir "In My Father's House" from Frank Herbert's Dune - and so on). There are some other witty references too - our hero is pursued by mysterious black aircraft but this being the 19th century they are airships, not helicopters. The section describing the cries of the London street hawkers is wonderful. As I said above, it also has great zing, a momentum that keeps things moving despite the jarring moments. And the ideas - whales in the Thames, lizard kings, exploding books, a Byron automaton - just keep coming.

There is another problem which is more structural - until the last few pages, our hero, Orphan does almost nothing. Things are done TO him, and a wild, exhilarating time he has because of them, and it's great fun, but he is pretty passive. However, given that the author has an awful lot to convey in this first volume (more are planned) and needs to move Orphan around fairly briskly, perhaps this is inevitable

I'll be waiting for the sequels because - despite my carping above - it is very readable and I'm sure the faults (if faults they are - maybe I'm just a moaning pedant) can and will be fixed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Take out a couple of details and you have a splendid kids' book, 8 Feb 2010
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Although this book has a lot of the fantastic worldview of steampunk and effectively avoids the cliches about the Victorian London, it is little more than a children's SF novel with a few naughty bits thrown in.

Orphan's very name invites us to consider him as a take on Dickens's Pip, adrift in an unfriendly London. Once he leaves London for the Caribbean, we are in the kind of literary territory covered by the likes of Lionboy. Back in London, we are distracted from a couple of holes in the plot with a Harry Potter style denouement.

Having said that, this is a fine read of an afternoon and Captain Wyvern is, strangely, one of the most memorable characters I have come across in a long time.

Read and enjoy, but don't expect more than an entertaining few hours.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lizards rule the Earth, 6 Feb 2010
By 
S. Bentley "stuarthoratiobentley" (North Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Imagine a Victorian England where James Moriarty is the Poet-Prime Minister and a lizard sits on the throne. Where a simulacrum of Lord Byron walks the streets, and the Bodleian library holds an ancient, otherworldly secret. A world where Irene Adler is an officer of Scotland Yard and Jules Verne has a clipper called the Nautilus. This is the world of the Bookman.

It's intriguing that last month I was reviewing Angry Robot's alternate history, Triumff by Dan Abnett. Of the two, Tidhar's work is the more satisfying work to me, not least because Tidhar does two things Abnett didn't. Tidhar gives us the point of divergence for his history and explains how it has altered history (lizards from the island of Caliban - from Shakespeare's Tempest) but also makes that part of the main character's story and development. It also happily blends fiction with history to reflect on themes of the time, like empire and emancipation and the nature of man and evolution. (This is not new, being a theme of Kim Newman's work - Kim is mentioned as another author whose work you will like, if you like this, and as a pre-existing Newman devotee I can endorse this - but also that of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman, Sir Harry being mentioned tellingly throughout the pages.) It also reflects on the changing trends and the influences on Victorian fiction, mentioning Gilgamesh, as well as Shakespeare's work, but also including the Holmes mythos, evoking Wells' War of the Worlds and the oeuvre of Jules Verne. It is a heady cultural brew that is still a fine story in its own right as the majority of the characters are original.

The main character is Orphan, who is an orphan, a poet who works in a bookshop but also a member of the persons of Porlock, who mock authors like Oscar Wilde, until the latter is left in quite a lather. However, when his love Lucy is killed by a bomb in a terrorist action by the mysterious Bookman, Orphan is drawn into the world of simulacra and automata, pirate lizards, Mars probes, and mysterious islands.

The story mimicks adventure literature of the time by focussing on an orphan - think how many Dickens or Stevenson stories feature an orphan - and the misadventures that characters often suffer in Victorian fiction, are all present, such as time in gaol, adventures on the seas, and discoveries about family. The story also fits the hero's journey as detailed in Joseph Campbell's Man with a Thousand Faces, and gives it a nicely epic and satisfying scope.

Tidhar's prose style is delightfully lightfooted. It keeps the story moving but is able to use a concise turn of phrase that speaks volumes of characters and places. There is humour here, but it is subtle and learned humour.

When Camera Obscura, the sequel which is previewed is released, I will be buying a copy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine Steampunk, but nothing new, 3 Feb 2010
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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The delights of The Bookman are by and large the same as those of any Steampunk novel - the depiction of an alternate Britain where the technological advances of Charles Babbage have propelled it into an exciting, dark and dangerous new world that Victorian society is perhaps not yet ready to embrace - a society where fictional and real-life characters co-exist, Sherlock Holmes rubbing shoulders not only with Moriarty and Irene Adler, but also Jack the Ripper, Oscar Wilde and Jules Verne. Lavie Tidhar clearly revels in the opportunities afforded the richness of such a setting, bringing in a few additional references from Shakespeare and The Phantom of the Opera (although that's been done by Nicholas Meyer's Sherlock Holmes adventure The Canary Trainer) through to Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner.

Here we have a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen drawn from as diverse a bunch as Karl Marx, Mrs Beeton, Nevil Maskelyne, Tom Thumb and a book-seller named Jack who operate from his shop off St. Martin's Lane, producing seditious pamphlets that denounce the rule of Les Lézards, a monarchy of lizard people that holds dominion over the British Isles (echoing Kim Newman's Vampire monarchy in the seminal Anno Dracula). Also involved, but initially only to a pranksterish degree, is a poet known only as Orphan. His involvement in the dark affairs of the lizard monarchy becomes more serious however when his fiancée Lucy is killed by a mysterious and deadly assassin known only as the Bookman while attending the launch of a Martian probe. Orphan's belief that she can however be revived takes him to the Caribbean and Caliban's Island, a place that holds the key to several mysteries.

With so many historical and literary references to drawn on, and even some bibliophile fetishism for additional thrills, The Bookman would seem to have everything in place, yet inevitably - as is often the case with Steampunk - it often seems like pastiche, drawing particularly heavily here from H.G. Welles and Jules Verne (with a little bit of a more modern spin of Tim Powers' pirate adventure On Stranger Tides). While Lavie Tidhar goes through the motions of the genre well, there just doesn't seem to be anything fresh or original here to distinguish The Bookman from better work of this type (The Difference Engine, Morlock Night, Homunculus, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but this is nonetheless an entertaining, literary adventure of the classic kind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars London under the lizards, 3 Feb 2010
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Steampunk is, accoring to yesterday's Evening Standard, enjoying a move out of the shadows thanks to the latest Sherlock Holmes film. Whilst this can only be a good thing for the "punk" genres of speculative fiction, steampunk books are not likely to be to everyone's taste - even those who have subscribed to steampunk fashion/decor.

So, The Bookman is a boy's own adventure based in a Victorian Britain where Charles Babbage built his difference engine and technology has progressed differently - simulcrams (basically cyborgs) are commonplace. Add to that interactions with real (Jack the Ripper), fictional (Moriarty, Holmes) and idealised real (Jules Verne as an adventurer) people against memorable London landmarks. Finally, add in a race of extra-terrestrial lizards running the country and a space probe.

If any of this sounds too bizarre to be your cup of tea, steer clear, The Bookman was not written for you. If you're still interested, you'll find The Bookman to be nicely-written but with tongue firmly in cheek. However, whilst the imagined world is vividly realised and the in-jokes come thick and fast, I felt a little disappointed with the story. This means that, whilst the Bookman is highly readable and generally enjoyable, I can't say I was wholly satisfied.

In short, The Bookman is a light-hearted romp that's worth a read if you're a steampunk fan, or if you're into speculative fiction. (I've given it 4 stars, but that's rounded up from 3.5 stars).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre, but beguiling, 2 Feb 2010
By 
S. P. Long "Simon Long" (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Lavie Tidhar's first novel is a fast-paced adventure set in an alternative Victorian London, populated by well-known characters, both historical and fictional. The writing sets the scene beautifully, and there are literary in-jokes a-plenty (or at least, so I assume from the few that I noticed!) - being well-read isn't a prerequisite to enjoying this book, but I suspect it would help get the most from it.

The characters are well-drawn and engaging, and dialog is convincing. My one reservation is the plot, which develops well for the first half of the book, but then seems to lose focus and wander a bit - particularly in the final third of the book, I found it difficult to follow what exactly was happening, and it was unclear how the situations set up in the first part of the book were really resolved.

That said, it is a thoroughly entertaining read, not least because of playing spot-the-reference all the way through. Certainly not for everyone, and a bit pulp in tone, but enjoyable nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars beware books can seriously damage your health, 31 Jan 2010
By 
David Spanswick (Brighton United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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Wandering through this phantasmagoria of a novel I recognised most of the references and since being a bit of a literary gent myself I wondered if the casual reader drawn to this novel would be equally as successful

The classical divisions of Orpheus & Eurydice/The Odyssey/Prometheus Unbound set the tenor of a novel with serious intent with references that go back to the dawn of time indeed there is a character called Gilgamesh who is credited with the oldest tale in literary history

I met with many characters I know from both fiction and non-fiction such as Irene Adler ~ Sherlock Holmes love interest (beside Watson that is). She is now chief of police ~ how very post-feminist is that! Mrs Beeton, first celebrity chef and Karl Marx, revolutionary, are in the mix as both themselves and others but don't confuse them with the simulacrums, especially that of Byron, thrown in to keep the party going.

The novel veers into a boy's own rolicking adventure alongside Jules Verne and the search for Caliban's Island and our Everyman hero, Orphan's quest for his long lost Lucy who may or may not have been destroyed by the wicked Bookman's exploding volumes.

The wonderfully named pirate, Mr Spoons, will have you on the edge of your seat
and you will rush along to a satisfying conclusion as lovers are reunited, baddies disposed of and a kind of order is hinted at but that might be left to the sequel

It is amazing how the plundering of Victorian London continues. It is certainly a rich seam to be mined and in historical terms it is the advent of modernism in society: Darwinism is gaining credibility, there are other advances in science, policing and the law and Mr Freud is in the wings reasy to explain the inexplicable.

Lavie Tidhar ~ what a name I believed it to be an anagrammatical nom de plume or maybe even a syndicate using an acronym but he is the real thing (Google him) ~
has succeeded in writing a jolly good yarn along the lines of Robert Rankin and
Ann Featherstone's masterly "Walking in Pimlico".

Just one small point and that is on the matter of a reptilian monarchy. I felt while reading the unease of deja vu. Tidhar is not the first to mention lizards on the throne of Englad, indeed I believe David Icke one mooted this possibility and was not Jim Morrison, late singer with the Doors monickered as The Lizard King. So are these hommages or is there something about the royal family that has long been kept from us !!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A worth-a-read steampunk novel, 28 Jan 2010
By 
Amazon Customer (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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This is an interesting book, with an amusing overall arc and some mildly arch borrowing of characters, primarily from Conan Doyle, but struggles to really hold the reader. The action seems to jump too much, giving an overall effect of disconnection and jerkiness, which does mean that attention can easily disconnect. Whilst it is not entirely predictable, the twists are often not twisty enough, and in the end it just doesn't seem to pull off the effect it was aiming for. It does however paint an odd little picture of a Victorian London that never existed, but includes enough familiarity to tantalise. I wouldn't read the sequel, but I don't regret the time spent on this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Bookman cometh!, 28 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Bookman (Paperback)
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In another history, Victorian Britain is ruled by a race of lizard monarchs and a popular actor is murdered on stage by a mysterious and mythic assassin known only as The Bookman. Witness to the murder is aspiring poet and "Person from Porlock", Orphan who, when his friend disappears, leaving behind a cryptic letter hinting at knowledge of The Bookman's identity and purpose, is plunged into an urgent quest to uncover the true nature of The Bookman, Brittania's "Les Lezards" overlords and his own part in this intrigue.

The story itself is enjoyable steampunk where characters from the 19th century, both real and fictional collide. In this reality Sherlock Holmes, is still a private detective, Moriaty is a puppet Prime Minister and Mycroft, a member of the secret service. The chess playing "Turk" is a true automaton and Byron exists as a walking, talking simulcra of the dead poet. In a way, however, I felt that this wealth of literary reference is the book's downfall. It almost turns it into a game of "spot the Victorian cultural reference" and I think the story suffers a tad for it. Certainly, the plot feels a more pedestrian than something like "Rise of the Iron Moon" (although I dare say most would, in that comparison) and, in parts, I felt it didn't really hang together. Also, it seems to lack any really engaging characters for the reader to warm to.

Overall, if you like this genre then this is likely to prove an enjoyable read if, perhaps, lacking in parts.
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