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VINE VOICEon 2 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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 informed. The narrative is pacy, and kept me turning pages - occasionally melodramatic, and would somebody really do all this for love? Isn't that a little - well, Nineteenth Century?

How about plot? If there is any real vulnerability, it is here. There is just too much going on. The shades of grey are too subtle, the factions too numerous, the good guys too bad and the bad guys too good - perhaps that is like life - but by the time you work out in convincing terms who is who and what to do, the book has just about finished.

A good read - I genuinely enjoyed this, though it's a bit off my beaten track. If you are looking for an interesting new voice, and are prepared to go somewhere different, you could do a lot worse.
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on 2 October 2010
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 actual parents, "tonight... is the night."

But the only oaths Orphan makes that night are oaths of vengeance. Attending the grand launch of a Martian probe, the Bookman makes his mythical presence felt; his vehement objections to the interstellar expedition in question known. In absentia, he detonates a bomb which destroys the probe and incinerates, in collateral, Orphan's one true love. As soon as he regains his health and his wits, the boy's intent is set. For his campaign of anarchic terror, for his wanton disregard of human life, for taking away the very thing that made Orphan whole, the Bookman must pay.

So begins "emerging master" Lavie Tidhar's first novel, which pits one boy against a conspiracy of - would you credit it? - royal lizards which reaches to the stars and back. Now The Bookman could have been brilliant. During its first third, I fully believed it would be. Tidhar's beguiling short fiction, collected together in Hebrewpunk a couple of years ago, certainly is, but the demands of a short story versus those of a full-length novel are divergent, and Tidhar approaches The Bookman from an odd angle: as if it were a collection of loosely-related shorts rather than a single, cumulative experience, he introduces new characters (cobbled together from the annals of factual, as well as fictional, history) and new concepts (which is to say lazily repurposed steampunk tropes) in every chapter, none of which he fleshes out to any real extent.

The bigger picture is what's missing in The Bookman. Every encounter feels isolated, digressionary at best. It doesn't help that Orphan careens through the narrative like a headless chicken, chauffeured frustratingly unawares - and as we experience the text from his perspective, so too are we - from one conflict to the next by a rotating array of supporting characters. The boy's like a wind-up toy. Tidhar alludes to Orphan being but a pawn in some greater game, and that's fine, but at no point does he strive to rise above the myriad manipulations of the likes of Prime Minister Moriarty and the titular Bookman; he is so at the mercy of his every opponent that one becomes rather exhausted by of the rollercoaster of resolve rebuffed and recovery Tidhar has built for Orphan to ride along.

The Bookman is not without its strengths. Specifically, its beginning will reel you in like a bird on a wire, and on a related note, Tidhar's turn-of-phrase can be quite captivating. His stylistic intervention is, however, regrettably intermittent - prevalent particularly in the early-going and at presumably pivotal moments later in the game. For instance:

"This is the time of myths. They are woven into the present like silk strands from the past, like a wire mesh from the future, creating an interlacing pattern, a grand design, a repeated motif. Don't dismiss myth, boy. And never, ever, dismiss the Bookman."

Purplish, perhaps, but pretty all the same. Lyrical and impactful. Were there more such prose, I would heartily recommend The Bookman to you on account of its style, if not its substance, of which, sadly, there's something of a lack. But alas.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I had high hoped for this given the write up and the clear steam punk genre setting, unfortunately I was sadly disapointed.

Firstly it is highly derivative, and by that I mean Lavie Tidhar has clearly looked for all the steam punk conventions and the in a scattergun approach filled the book with them. There are some pages where all you get is a list of items in a room that are common steampunk devices to no other end than to try and set his genre credentials out. After a while I just started to flick past these passages.

The narrative thread jumps too much and there is very little cohesion in the story. Half the time I carried on reading wondering how on Earth the lead character, Orphan, got where he was in the book.

We also have too many things going on. In his clear excitment at writing a book to conform to all the steampunk conventions in a realtively short book we lose any sense of purpose for the main character and all the other supporting cast don't get filled out as they should. It's a shame because less would be more here. Less frenetic story changes and lists of Victorian characters and more character development with a better paced plot and we could have a great book. Or the book could have been extended four fold.

There is the oddball thread of the royal family being reptilian space refugees and quite frankly that just does not work and it needs to because the thrust of the story rotates around this.

Overall it's just not a very good book. All of the elements are there in place but whilst you may have the ingredients to bake a cake, it does not follow that you will end up with something edible. I'd avoid this to be honest and I won't be following the story of Orphan in further books.
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on 19 August 2011
dispite seemimg to get some glowing reviews in the press, and it being "my kind of thing", i just could not get on with this at all. i tried, i really struggled on but to no avail.

for me, the writing is very basic and clumsy. its like something written by a 14 year old. the concept is very interesting but way over used to the point i was just sceaming to the author to stop.

some may like this, but i found it shockingly poor.
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2011
A beautifully written, steampunk-esque early 20th century world where lizards are our ruling class and the world is slightly tilted because of this. Essentially it is an alternative history book, along the lines of Harry Turtledoves books, but with less war and more fantasy thrown in.

The book interweaves a number of well known literary characters into the storyline in a way that doesn't make it feel forced, and the fact that the main character is called Orphan, should emphasize the style of the book.

I loved this book and would recommend it to everybody who likes a little bit of difference in their lives.
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on 14 June 2013
Well, it was definitely steampunk. Sometimes it felt like being bashed over the head with a steampunk how-to manual. At times a little pointless but an all right read nonetheless. I can see how some would have loved it, but for me it was just about average. I'll read the others in the series and probably enjoy them too, but I wouldn't add them to any must read lists. I also felt the end was rushed and unsatisfying.
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VINE VOICEon 15 July 2010
Steam punks ahoy!

A fun Adventure novel with lots of nice touches, and an expectation of a knowledge of literature - I did love the Persons from Porlock and Inspector Irene Adler within the first few pages.

It's not an outstanding or terribly significant work, but it's fun and action-packed - and I rather enjoyed it. Recommended for fans of Steam punk genre fiction.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a fast-paced, action-packed, non-stop Victoriana adventure packed full of secret societies, foggy London streets, dastardly anarchists, Lizard kings and queens, mysterious islands and Mars space probes... At its centre is Orphan who loses his true love and sets out on the quest to discover who the mysterious Bookman is and the secret of his own identity.

The book is full of nineteenth century literary jokes and characters (Irene Adler as chief of police, Moriarty as Prime Minister, the simulacrum Byron, the Persons from Porlock, and Orphan goes off voyaging with Jules Verne) but it isn't strictly necessary to the story to `get' them.

So I have to confess this wasn't really my type of thing, but that doesn't make it a bad book. It's well-written in a `boy's own' kind of way and is all about the plot and what happens next. If that's what you're looking for then this will suit admirably.
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VINE VOICEon 10 March 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Produced as a new entry in the "Steampunk" genre (i.e. sci-fi based on an alternative history of steam based technology) this is as flawed as it is readable, a ripping yarn page turner that over eggs the pudding with too much historical referencing and breathless plotting, producing a work that does not quite add up to the sum of its parts.

What works? Firstly, there's a rich imagination and storytelling here that draws you in to a world you'll look forward to returning to (if you're reading in installments).

To sum up, 'Orphan' is a poet in love, and friends with some prominent literati and political agitators, including Karl Marx and Isabella Beeton. In the background, the titular Bookamn, a shadowy terrorist figure, is set on a fresh wave of atrocities, one of which cruelly claims the life of his love Lucy. This sends Orphan spinning on an adventure that crosses the sea to 'Caliban's Island' and beyond. In the meantime we learn details of this alternative history. Britain and her Empire are ruled over by a lizard royalty that quite literally fell from the stars. In the meantime, the lizards may, or may not, be planning an invasion. The Bookman may in fact be mankind's best hope in stopping them. Or he may not. Phew! With me so far?
It does make for a great page turner, compelling you to find out how events unfold in this strange but familiar world. The writing is clear and very readable, although there is some over-writing. For example, do we really need so many different flavours to be evoked when we read of Orphan's tender kisses with his love through the book? He is reminded of, variously, apple, cinammon, almond.
Also, this sophisticated alternate world needs more room to breathe. As it is, events, characters and plotting move so fast the narrative at times seems to fracture. Each short chapter almost boasts a new location and situation (although this could be a deliberate homage to the pulp serial literature of Victorian London).
There's also a "why not throw it in" feeling to the amount of historical referencing of historical and fictional characters.

For all this, though, 'the Bookman' is a good read and a great yarn, recommended for bedtime, holidays, or wherever you enjoy your escapist reading.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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