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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cyberpunk 'His Dark Materials'
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...
Published on 10 Mar 2006 by Alex

versus
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Undecided, reserving judgement until after volume 2
Having just completed reading this book (it was hard work, have no doubt about that !), and read the reviews below, I am undecided as to which camp I fall into. On the one hand, this book came across as a self-indulgent, chaotic, stream-of-conscience, prosaic ramble, with little regard for storyline, continuity, character development or reader empathy. On the other, the...
Published on 4 Sep 2006 by Claymore


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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The cyberpunk 'His Dark Materials', 10 Mar 2006
This review is from: Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1 (Hardcover)
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.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Undecided, reserving judgement until after volume 2, 4 Sep 2006
By 
Having just completed reading this book (it was hard work, have no doubt about that !), and read the reviews below, I am undecided as to which camp I fall into. On the one hand, this book came across as a self-indulgent, chaotic, stream-of-conscience, prosaic ramble, with little regard for storyline, continuity, character development or reader empathy. On the other, the book kept me intrigued with a fabulous basic premise, rich language and cultural references, loads of hidden connections, metaphors and parodies, historic cameos and the constant promise that, at some point, all these chaotic elements would be drawn together and explained. In the end (of this book anyway) this did NOT happen and plenty was left unexplained. Much reader interpretation, imagination and presumption must be applied to carry out the task of tying these threads together and working out who ended up doing what to/with who and why. This could be considered either artistic genius on the author's part, appealing to an intellectual elite, or sheer laziness. Again, I can't quite decide which (though I hope it's the former and maybe I'm just a little too dense to fully realise).

A minor grumble - The relationship storylines that run throughout the novel (one involving Thomas/Puck and the various Jacks, and the other between Phreedom and Seamus) seem unnecessary. They are never really relevant to any of the other events (not alone in this aspect I suppose). A couple of times, and more so near the end of this volume, the Thomas/Jack relationship appeared about to be used as an element in a morality and persecution exercise (as judged by the contemporary societies described), but the author then always leaves this unfinished. The Phreedom/Seamus relationship seemed completely redundant (and the Phreedom/Jack/Seamus triangle was a real curve ball that didn't go anywhere either). Maybe it will all become apparent in the follow up novel.

The most challenging aspect of this book for me was the way that the characters' personalities seemed to be randomly interchangeable completely blurring the boundaries between good and evil (I strongly suspect that this WAS deliberate). This, combined with almost constant changing of the first-person viewpoint, (IMHO the least forgivable trait of this book), made for a confusing read at times.

However, I have high hopes for the follow up, Ink, and am secretly keeping my fingers crossed that the author panders to some of his less intellectual readers and provides for slightly more structure approach and summary (I'm sure others will disagree).

If I was asked to recommend this book to anyone it would come attached with a solemn warning; be prepared for the unconventional, confusion, a hard slog at times, and just maybe, depending upon your prediliction, disappointment. And most definitely not for the cerebrally challenged!!

I feel that volume 2 will be the ultimate decider for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great effort - but so hard, 22 Sep 2008
By 
J. Cronin "dudara" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
On one hand this book is rich with cultural references, old legends and a grand scale. On the other hand, it moves back and forth through time and rambles from character to character. After an initially intriguing opening section (which lured me in) the book deteriorated. I gave it the 100 page test (read 100 pages and see how you feel then) and because I don't like giving up on books, it got the 200 page test. Then due to having to wait in a hospital for 2 hours it got to over 300 pages. It was then I realised how many of the seemingly disparate threads in the story were being woven together, but at that point I didn't really care anymore. The non-linear narrative was just too disjointed for me.

The lack of distinct characters in this book, their replacement with overarching characters that transcend time and location is confusing and for me, offputting. It's clear that this is a book into which the author invested a lot of time and research. It's just not for everyone and it's not for me. I definitely won't be picking up the sequel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but baffling..., 11 Mar 2008
I really liked the idea of this book, and thought it was a fantastic premise for a story. However, when I read it, I came away very unsatisfied.
I have the horrible feeling that I'm just being a bit dense about it all, but I couldn't make head nor tail of what was meant to be happening. Every time the threads of all the different subplots seemed to going in a direction where you could make sense of them, the plot skips and changes and you're left still not knowing what was going on in the first place AND confused about the new bit of the story!
Admittedly Hal Duncan is a fantastic author, and as a collection of short stories this works really well, but don't read this if (like me) you feel the need to actually understand what you are reading! (However, I'm secretly hopeful for great things from the sequel, Ink.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-boggling!, 30 Jan 2009
By 
Penny Waugh "A reader" (UK) - See all my reviews
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I loved this book, though it was a far from easy read. Constant changes of viewpoint (even within a single character) and time shifts, often several on the same page, made this a marathon of concentration. Unlike some reviewers I could see point in the Thomas/Jack and Phreedom/Seamus relationships, including all their aliases, but I was a bit sorry that the original idea of Reynard following the Book into the Vellum seemed to peter out after a while. Maybe Ink will make things plainer - maybe!
It was however a great read with I thought excellent use of myth and legend. The author has an awful lot to say and manages to say most of it!
As I say, a marathon for reader, and author, and I'm very much looking forward to Ink, the next instalment, when I muster the strength to face it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If..., 29 Jan 2010
By 
Okay, here are my two beans.

IF: you are interested in Greek and Sumerian mythology, HP Lovecraft and apocalyptic urban fantasy, this is the book for you.

BUT: be warned - the narrative is challenging. It chops between many different versions of the characters, in other times and alternate histories. It doesn't always hold your hand and explain the terminology it's using, and it's book one of a two book series, so don't expect it to rush to resolve all the threads just yet.

The experience of reading this book was just like the experience of being involved in Classical Studies and Ancient and Near Eastern Studies (in which I am fortunate enough to have a some qualifications): you take a couple of myths (often slightly contradictory), some historical sources, a few different translations of some ancient poem, and use them to get a holistic understanding. That's the way The Vellum works - you go from Thomas Messenger, a 'graved' demon fleeing a war between heaven and hell; to Tommy Messenger, a young soldier in the first world war; to Puck, a fairy from a fantasy world, trapped in the Vellum after being mutilated and beaten to death by Anti-Gnomish bigots. It follows the characters very faithfully, but you do have to remember that there are several versions of each character and not try to force everything into a linear format. With that said - the plot progresses. At first I had my doubts, but the book doesn't just look at it's navel. It does move things along, and the characters mature a good deal from their experiences.

In fact the best piece of advice I can offer is - relax. It isn't going to read like a book you're used to. If you're experienced in intertextual analysis, then it'll be a very familiar experience. If you're not, just relax and take everything in. Don't try to fit it into a framework. If you just take in the information and let the book do it's thing, it starts to make sense on it's own after a little while.

Also - it's a very good book. I've missed my stop on the tube several times because of it. Even if you decide it makes no sense at all, the individual strands are well enough written to keep you reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting premise but..., 3 Dec 2008
By 
C. Carter "Malteser" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
As this book had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and having not read the reviews, I thought I'd choose it as my next read. But after 120 pages, I'm afraid to admit I've given up!

Don't get me wrong - I suspect that it's a very clever story, intricately woven characters, switching between different realities - but It was simply too much like hard work for me. I couldn't follow who I was reading about, where they were, what time zone they were in or anything. And like other reviewers have said, unfortunately I don't care enough about the characters or the plot to persevere with it.

Have given it 3 stars as I don't think it's a bad book, just not the one for me.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easier if you don't make the decision., 28 Sep 2006
I've come to the conclusion that I'm not even going to decide whether I liked this book or not.

On the good side some 'way out there' themes and wonderfully descriptive elements; I would have preferred a slightly linear storyline, but that's just me.

I know people who put this book down after 100 pages, I stuck with it and was rewarded. I think instead of trying to understand everything about it, the easiest way to deal with it is to just accept that it's a story that's told all over the place; and to expect nothing. That way you're not disappointed.

Duncan strikes me as an author who takes himself very seriously and that does come out in some of the characters I think; No Mawkish sentimentality here.. great spoof prospect though...
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, Well Done!, 14 Aug 2005
By 
R. micallef - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1 (Hardcover)
Being from the States it's not often that I spring for imported UK titles. I took a chance on Vellum and I was pleasantly surprised. I haven't read a rich captivating metaphysical thriller of this sort since Attanasio stopped being published.
There are some things about Vellum that stood out from the rest....
One, instead of alterating viewpoints with each chapter a la Ken Macleod, you have multiple view points introduced within a chapter. My favorite thread were the mini-narratives of god/angelic archtypes that influence and shape the mundane character's stories. It sounds strange but it really works.
Two, while I've read a lot of 'War in Heaven' fantasy, this one 'felt' nicely researched. I maybe be wrong but I detected a variety of sources from Babylonian mythology to the para biblical Book of Enoch.
Third, and most important. While Vellum is a great read and features some fascinating metaphysical explanation, I found that I cared about what happened to the characters.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I like this book., 10 April 2009
This review is from: Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1 (Hardcover)
I've read some bad reviews of this book and most of them cite boring/undeveloped characters and gimmicky writing. That's what appealed to me most about Vellum! The writing is solid and sensitive. Yes, the story progresses in an overlaid, stop-start narrative but that's all in keeping with the content of the story and as a technique is used with aplomb. It's a bit unorthadox but not gratuitously wacky.

I'm sometimes put off sci-fi and fantasy books because the authors wax lyrical about their made up worlds and get bogged down in descriptive info-dumps. Vellum doesn't do that and I can see why that means some people think there's a lack of character development but to me it's a strength, getting any more bogged down in the characters would have derailed the pace of the time and place hopping. Besides that, the characters are supposed to be archetypes, more than conventionally fleshed out and individual characters.

The blurb on the back didn't tell me much, I took a chance on Vellum but I'm glad I did. I'll certainly give the sequal a go.
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Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1
Vellum: The Book of All Hours: 1 by Hal Duncan (Hardcover - 5 Aug 2005)
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