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on 14 July 2011
This is yet another great release from Angry Robot Books. It was purchased for the price of 99p from Amazon UK. That is less that a cup of coffee, less even than a vote for Britain's got "talent". This book is so cheap I almost feel guilty.

Lavie Tidhar is an interesting person to follow on Twitter, or to read short stories by. I don't always agree with what he says, but he is nearly always thought provoking.
This book is different from all the other Angry Robot books I have read so far. Normally there is a really high pace throughout the story. I don't think that would have worked with this one. There is a lot going on, and I barely realised I was at the end until I got there. Most of the threads were tied off so nicely, and those that were not seemed to be deliberately so. I am going to have to read Camera Obscura and I am looking forward to it. I found the structure of this book delightful (can't believe I said that, but it is true). I love the excerpt from famous works that heads each chapter, and provides an insight into what it contains. There are many literary quotes scattered throughout this piece that show the author has a deep and extensive collection of reading materials.

David Icke. There I said it. I can't help it. I can't help thinking that this book may actually be deliberately poking fun at the idea of the royal family being 4th dimensional lizards as part of a Jewish New World Order Conspiracy. At least in my mind that is what political scientists and literature lecturers will be saying in fifty years. It is cleverly done, and made into a serious Steampunk novel. Although Lizardpunk may be closer to the mark. The main protagonist has no idea what is going on for the entire novel, which is easy for me to relate to. More importantly, it is not obvious to the reader exactly what is going on to start with. I found the intensity of the book made this a bit of a slog around the half-way point, but it added so much to the story moving forward. The villain? Well that is an interesting point. There is not a defined villain as such, more a collection of different factions that desire vastly differing outcomes. It is a lot more like real life that a classic good vs evil battle.

There is not a great big cinematic over-the-top ending to this story. The ending fits the writing style, and makes sure you want to read the sequel. It requires a lot of brain power to process this book without coming across as pretentious or overly high-minded.

As usual the Robot Overlords have included extras at the end of this book. A goodly portion of Camera Obscura to aid the brainwashing, er, I mean subtle advertising for the next book in the series. I had to start reading something else straight away to stop me buying the next one on the spot.

This book is subtle and clever and enjoyable to read for anyone who like Steampunk or fiction that makes you think. Oh and it has robots in it.

I should also point out that I have just seen the cover for the third book in the series and it is War of the Worlds stunning.
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on 3 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 6 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 10 March 2010
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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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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2010
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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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on 29 April 2010
Orphan loves Lucy. They live in a bizarre version of Victorian London inhabited by a potpouri of historical, fictional and mythical personages, appearing not as themselves. For example, a playboy Karl Marx rubs shoulders with Prime Minister Moriarty. Lucy is lost to Orphan, after an exploding book kills her. To bring her back, Orphan must find the mysterous Bookman, who seems to have orchestrated this killing. His journey takes him through sewers to the lair of the Bookman, to encounters with a self-aware chess-playing machine and an android, to joining pirates in the Caribbean after being snatched from a ship owned by Jules Verne, and finally to a strange island, where he discovers a book left by his mother. It talks about the Binder, an entity opposed to the Bookman. Both of these are revealed as ex-servants of the Lizard Men, an alien race who landed in the the Caribbean and have achieved behing-the-scenes power in Britain, much to the chagrin of the French.

This book ends on a revelation in the bowels of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. There is another volume to come. It certainly is worth a read, but could do with pruning in some areas and more detail in others. There are many, many bookish references which get tedious. There are also too many characters amd too much plot business. Conversely, places lack a sense of presence: London for example remains a set of street names. It feels like the author is trying too hard to impress.
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VINE VOICEon 28 January 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 21 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A steampunk novel. For those who don't know the term, think 19th century setting with Jules Verne technology all around. Thus most of this genre are what you would call alternate histories.

This runs for a little under 400 pages and 36 chapters and is divided into three parts, two long and one quite short.

It's the tale of Orphan. A young man who has no knowledge about his past and no parents around anymore. His London is not the same as the one from our histories. Alien Lizards co exist with humans and many hold positions of power. And the Prime Minister is Professor Moriarty.

He's not the only literary figure you'll find in here.

When a terrorist known only as the bookman is responsible for the death of Orphan's beloved, he sets out to get revenge. And will find the truth about himself and his world on the way.

Told in fairly decent prose and with an imaginative setting this does engage the reader easily enough from the beginning. And as the book moves on it does manage to move the story on also. The reveal and plot developments are very nicely paced and the bigger canvas of what's going on here unfolds nicely.

Whether this will appeal probably depends on whether on not you're a fan of this kind of work, but if you are it's definitely worth a look. The story does reach a decent conclusion at the end. But after that you get the first couple of chapters of a forthcoming sequel. On the basis of this, it might be worth a look.
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on 3 February 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 16 September 2011
I very much like the Steampunk genre so was very keen to check this one out. It's an interesting world and in parts, the author does a good job of summoning up a thick, grimy, Victoriana atmosphere. However the execution is, for the most part, exceptionally clumsy and generally feels like a skim through of every Steampunk cliche there is in the genre. It becomes tedious with all the name dropping that is thrown in and very much feels like the author has taken a dictionary of anything vaguely related to Steampunk and done his best to work it into his tale.

Throughout it all the hero, Orphan, wanders around this world utterly clueless as to what is going on. A somewhat muddled supporting cast drift in and out in many a subplot that is left dangling or simply gets lost in the wash. By the end of it all I didn't know what was happening and to be truthful, I didn't much care - the multitude of threads had become so tangled I found it near undecipherable.

It is interesting in parts, with some entertaining (if cliched) scenes occuring, but for the most part it is a tale poorly told. If you're looking for a solid Steampunk read, this isn't it I'm afraid.
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