Fiction Review

The Ninth Circle

(2008) Alex Bell, Gollancz, 12.99, pbk, 264pp, ISBN 978-0-5750-8027-0

From the cover blurb, it would seem that this is Bell's first (published) novel and, as such, deserves a bit of leeway, I feel. The concept of an amnesiac trying to piece together their life and identity from their surroundings and possessions seems a good one. The novel is written in the style of a diary/journal, which I liked; however, this format does slip a bit at times and becomes action in the present tense. Unfortunately, the protagonist struck me as a right idiot at times and increasingly irritated me. Then I stopped and wondered if it was supposed to be blackly comedic at times, and I wasn't quite appreciating the jokes, finding them lame or annoying.

The setting is Budapest, apparently quite well known to the author from the detailed descriptions, but I'm not quite sure when it is set, other than 'modern times'. As a gothic (?) horror/mystery I quite enjoyed it initially but, as I say, I became irritated by the character. By the time you (and he) discover his past and identity, it did not seem to have any direct relationship to the angels and demons stuff peppered throughout. I found it lacked plausibility at times, even within the fantasy nature of the story. The fact that by writing the novel as a personal journal you only ever have his perception, interpretation and version of events (coupled with the realisation that he lies) did make me feel at a bit of a loss, at times, to know what was or wasn't real or true. Maybe that's supposed to be part of the point of the book, you are just as much in the dark as he is.

The cover blurb suggests that the novel is "Neil Gaiman meets The Bourne Identity" which, unfortunately, reminded me of Gaiman's and Pratchett's Good Omens (1990), which does cover some of the same issues re Good and Evil, Angels and Demons, but is done much more entertainingly. However, as a first novel it is not bad at all, the concept and format interesting and, fair dues, I did not guess his identity.

Susanna Witch

Tony has also reviewed this title -- see here.

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