Read Recently — January 2008 — Angels and Chains

Scar Night: the Deepgate Codex: volume I by Alan Campbell

The city of Deepgate is built over an abyss — literally. It’s held up by massive chains and, in the poorer districts, ropes. At the centre of the city is the cathedral, the centre of their religion and of their lives. Their religion is . . . their religion is weird, and hard to sum up. I’m not sure that we are shown all of it. They believe that there is a god in the abyss, and he is collecting the souls of the dead to form an army to reclaim the Heaven that he was kicked out of long ago. They believe that blood contains the soul and that the devil lives in a maze of blood. They believe in angels — okay, they don’t actually believe in angels; they know the angels are real. Some angels have served as “Temple Archons” for centuries, but that bloodline has gradually worn out, leaving only one at present: a boy named Dill. Where his ancestors flew into battle against the Church’s enemies, Dill is not allowed to fly at all, and restricted to merely ceremonial duties. The Church’s enemies are now dealt with by a fleet of airships and powerful poisons.

The other angel hanging about is an old one–indeed, no one knows how old, but she goes by the name Carnival. Scar Night, the night the book is named for, is her night. Once each month, on the night of the dark moon (not, please note, the dark of the moon) she goes on a rampage through the city, killing. The Spine, Church assassin-adepts (so-named because they are the backbone of the temple) try to stop her, if possible by killing her. So far they have always failed, but they do ensure that most of what’s killed is them, and not too many innocent bystanders. Still, at least one always dies, as Carnival kidnaps them, hangs them up by a shackle, and drinks their blood. Surprisingly, she is not the villain of this story.

Mr. Nettle, a scavenger, one of the extreme lower classes of the city, has lost his daughter. The girl was killed, he believes, by Carnival, and he intends to take revenge. But what if he’s wrong, and there is another killer in the city?

Rachel Hael, scion of one of the military’s most successful houses, is a Spine assassin in training. Her older brother, the head of her house, has refused permission for her to undergo the final step of the training, so she remains, though a highly-skilled killer, flawed from the point of view of the Spine Adepts. She is now assigned to tutor Dill, though since he doesn’t need to learn how to deal quick, stealthy death, both of them are confused as to just what, exactly, she is supposed to teach him.

But something dark is happening in Deepgate. Something evil is being done in the name of good, and games within games are being played. And when that falls apart, can the city long survive?

The cover blurb, from Publishers Weekly, compares Campbell to Neil Gaiman, as does an inside blurb from Mania.com, and the comparison is not inapt. An equally good one is China Mieville, though the truth is that Mr. Campbell writes suitably different from both. This is a striking and original book, a bit dark but that’s partly because there are occasional outbreaks of heroism on the part of unexpected characters . . . that fail. But if you like Gaiman, and/or like Mieville, and/or you trust my opinion on the iffy books, this might be worth your time. It certainly won’t bore you.

Highly recommended.

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