(2016) Simon Morden, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, 321pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21148-3
This follows directly on from the previous book Down Station. Dilip, Mary, Crow and the other survivors are planning to make their way to the White City, the place that appears to be the capital of Down. They hope that their haul of maps will gain them riches, answers and a route home. But an enemy from the first book returns and they are split into two factions. After this, they still continue the journey to the city, with new companions, to find out who the masters of this world are and what their plan is.
I talked about the first novel as being (to me anyway) about stripping down the idea of the portal fantasy and re-inventing the popular tropes from it. The second novel continues with this. The story points out the problems with being in a whole new landscape. The practical realities of things like lack of paper and pen for copying out maps and difficulty of finding transport.
The White City is also a play on what the audience expects. When you hear the name, you think that it is going to be this gleaming metropolis. Entering it, the location is different, but it then plays with the expectation again, only to reveal something else that changes the direction of the narrative and makes it even darker. I will not spoil but it is something that also causes the reader to re-consider the notion of the portal fantasy and where it may come from.
It also builds up the idea in the first book of people being drawn into Down at different times. This is used to point out that London was not exclusively white until the 1950s or that people would have known about other cultures in the past. However it is also working on an idea about Down’s portals that was hinted in the first novel, which I won’t spoil.
The novel also develops Dilip and Mary as they are forced to examine their values, are faced with choices about how far they will go and what responsibility they will have to take on. Admittedly the other characters that came with them into Down do not get as much development. We don’t get a full look into their heads and the development for one of them still gets pushed to one side. Still one development at the end, might promise more in the next volume. It is notable that this uncertainty about the return and the effects on the worlds, may be part of the attempt to deconstruct the portal fantasy as it is.
I am not sure if this book works if you have not read the first, the recap is having to rush to keep up the narrative. But if as a part two of a series, it defiantly kept my interest with the main characters and the developments that add to the mystery of what will happen next and where the series will go. This series is defiantly worth a look for anybody that likes portal fantasy but wants something new done with the genre as well.
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