Fiction Reviews

Infernal Machines

(2017) John Hornor Jacobs, Gollancz, £16.99 / Can$26.99 / US$22.99, trdpbk, 361pp, ISBN 978-0-575-12413-4


There are very few books I read which, after a number of chapters I stop and re-start from the beginning, because I want to get my head around what I’m reading: this was one. Perhaps it was because this was the last part of a trilogy and I hadn’t read the previous two (Oh for a synopsis, similar to those in Analog when the story spreads over several issues) (other magazines – but very few these days – are available); more likely, what I did read didn’t grab me.

The ‘world’ in which the trilogy is set just seems too confusing. There are submarines and a still extant Roman Empire, a hole in the Earth through which daemons have escaped and those daemons are now used to power weapons, there is slapstick and horror. Some of the interaction between the main characters comes off, but not all the time, and I just did not believe in them. One of the main criteria for an individual is whether he/she/it could live off the page as well as on it, and I didn’t feel they could. Much is made in some reviews of books like this that they are ‘a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’ Well, for me at least, this has turned into ‘a big bit of confusion.’

I am not denying that there are some good ideas here – particularly the daemonic power being used for weapons and lighting – but there are also good borrowed ideas. The classic McGuffin, in this case a daemon hand which is carried around for much of the book but which comes into its own at the end of the tale; the end itself, which feels like a direct steal from Tolkien, where the hand goes into the Gullet, that hole from which the daemons escaped, and prevents any more coming forth; the stealing of the ring – sorry, I mean hand – and its power over the one bearing it; the…

Previously, when I have started a series part way through I’ve gone on to look out the other volumes. Unfortunately, I will not be doing that this time. I do not want to know their back-story, because it all feels ‘a little bit…’

Peter Young

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