(2008) John Meaney, Gollancz, £12.99, pbk, 345pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07961-8
This book follows on from Bone Song (2007, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 346pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08175-8) in which Meaney creates the city of Tristopolis on an alternate Earth. In this continuum energy is represented by the necroflux, the energy of death, mediated by the bones of the dead. Most 'technology' is wraith-driven, some bound by spells, others actually employed. There are sorcerers, both good and bad, demon entities, and even zombies, these last powered by the necroflux. Meaney's hero is a cop, Lieutenant Donal Riordan who, in the course of the first book, becomes the lover of a zombie cop who introduces him to a special unit, created to fight against evil sorcerers known as the Black Circle. By the end of the first novel, Riordan and his lover have managed to kill one of the Black Circle's major sorcerers, but both cops are also killed. Which, of course, isn't the end in this continuum: Riordan is fitted with his lover's zombie heart and goes back to the Black Circle unit.
This book picks up shortly after the end of the first. Riordan begins to come to terms with his new zombie status, and to discover the powers that this now confers on him. For instance, so long as he remains charged on necroflux he can see better, hear better, is virtually tireless, and can sense the presence and thoughts of other zombies. In the meantime Tristopolis is facing two new threats. The first is political as the Unity Party starts to make inroads into the system, scapegoating wraiths and zombies and suchlike, and trying to turn them into second-class citizens. The other involves a new telephone company that seems to provide exemplary service and, furthermore, actually makes people happy to use their products. But can there be a link between these two events? As it becomes more and more clear that Tristopolis' citizens are being ensorcelled by the phone technology, Riordan uncovers a plot by Black Circle sorcerers to seize power. Can the special unit he now heads counter the new threat? And what will happen after the Police Commissioner, Riordan's ally, is killed?
In theory, after having read two parts of a trilogy/series, one would think that I would be eager to get to the next part. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Which is strange... this should appeal to me. A science-fantasy with death and gargoyles and ghosts and zombies, etc., etc. It should be right down my street, so to speak. But actually I find this all a bit worn and tired, not least because I really don't think that the crime/thriller aspects of these novels works. Cases seem to get solved more by luck than through detection and, while it is true that even in 'normal' thrillers the protagonist(s) occasionally need a lucky break, here it seems more like they're following an arbitrary trail of breadcrumbs. Also, despite the SF trappings, there seems to be an awful lot of backstory missing, both in the creation of the world and of the characters. After two books we still do not really know how or why Donal's lover became a zombie (though, tantalisingly, we do get to meet her mother briefly in this book), or who took the decision, or why, to turn Donal into a zombie. Which is not to say that there are not things in here to like; one of Riordan's colleagues has a nifty motorbike that would not be out of place on a Meatloaf album cover! But, on the whole, I would have to say that these books are short on logic and the characters a little too two-dimensional. Good enough for a beach-reader, but lacking in real meat.
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