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Posted October 25, 2009
The Hierophant of the New Weird strikes again
NB: I received an ARC of this book via the Amazon Vine Program
Jeff Vandermeer is the Hierophant of the the "New Weird", an avant-garde branch of modern fantasy that uses phantasmagorical imagery and horror in an often urban secondary fantasy world. China Mieville's Perdido Street Station may be the most commercially successful of this branch of fantasy, but Vandermeer has done more than any author (and editor) in forming the New Weird style of fantasy.
He started it in earnest with (deliberately confusing) two versions of City of Saints and Madmen, a collection of stories (and in the second iteration, stories and other miscellany) set in his secondary world of Ambergris. Next came Shriek, an Afterword, another book set in Ambergris, a more proper novel although with bizarre stylistic conventions.
And now there is Finch. Ambergris has changed from the time of Saints and Shriek. The Gray caps have risen, taking advantage of the civil war between two Houses to take the city for themselves, changing it in their fungal ways, and building some sort of secret project. Rebels scheme in and on the outskirts the ruined city. Ordinary people try to just survive an increasingly bizarre landscape. And just *what* are the Gray Caps going to do now??
Enter into this Finch. That's not his real name, and in a sense not his real identity, but that's the one he uses as a detective in employ of the Gray Caps and the Partials (the fungally transformed humans) who serve them. He claims he is not a detective, but it is what he does in this new order. What starts out as an investigation of a murder turns into a conspiracy and a tangled web of secrets and revelations that unwind not only Finch, but Ambergris itself.
While this is a more proper novel than many of his previous efforts (even more so than Shriek), the sensibilities and ideas explored in previous works are in full force here. Ambergris has fallen from its previous heights, a fuzzy, spore laden shell of its former self. The already weird Ambergris of previous novels is radically transformed in this novel. And as much as Finch, his fellow detectives, contacts, and lover, the city is a character.
Noir, horror, New Weird, phantasmagorical fantasy. Ambergris is one of the most vividly realized cities in modern fantasy. Its a place you wouldn't want to live, but its definitely a place that you will want to visit. While reading the previous volumes aren't strictly necessary, I think that a reader would be very much lost at sea if they haven't done so. But for those readers ready for a dose of the New Weird, laced with noir, and a detective mystery, Ambergris awaits you.It'll get under your skin, and transform you. In a good way. Promise.
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Posted February 20, 2010
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