(2009) Robert Rankin, Gollancz, £14.99, hrdbk, 341 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-07872-7
This book is the sequel to The Brightonomicon, which I will admit that I have not read. Having read some of Rankin’s earlier works, I was keen to see this one but will advise that his writing style is unique and you may find that you either love it or hate it.
The best way to describe it is that it comes across in a wordy, eccentric and pure storytelling fashion, and certainly his yarns are not to be taken too seriously at all. There are blink-and-you-will-miss-them pop-culture references, everyday occurrences, like going into a pub, are given an entirely new perspective and amongst all this there are wonderfully eccentric characters.
In Retromancer, the main characters are the great Hugo Rune, a mysterious and powerful wizard with a distinct aversion to settling the bill at the numerous bars and restaurants he so wishes to frequent, and his sidekick, Rizla. The book is told from the point of view of Rizla, who looks upon Rune with an air of awe and, at times, irritation. The title of the book refers to Rune who is, as described by Rankin himself, 'a magician who can channel his awesome powers to travel through time', which gives a flavour of what is to come…
The book starts out in the sixties, when Rizla, having returned from the adventures the author reminds us are documented in the Brightonomicon, wakes to find the world is not quite as he remembered it to be – Germany has won the war. He is saved from peril by Hugo Rune and the pair of them set off on a series of adventures to put right history aided by a set of tarot cards that dictates their fate as the strive to put things right. They find themselves back in London during the Second World War where Hugo Rune makes use of his personal tarot deck to provide them with the sequence of events they need to save the day.
The book has a slight air of short stories in this respect, and a very British feeling to it as Rune and Rizla encounter the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels, strange goings on at Bletchley Park and an odd encounter on a bus in order to foil the evil scheme of Rune’s arch enemy, Count Otto Black. Along the way they encounter various pub contests, ludicrous escapes from peril and a barman with his very own monkey.
While the book can at times be a little too rambling which hinders the development of the story, the unique manner in which Rankin weaves the tale is enjoyable and refreshingly different. There are fun plays on words and this is certainly not a book to be taken to seriously. There are elements of magic and fantasy and at the end a wonderful nod in the direction of steampunk.
Rizla comes across as something of a hapless character at times, but also adds a distinctly human element in comparison to Rune, who is constantly full of surprises. Elements of his character are fleshed out as the plot proceeds, and the revelations that both Rune and Rizla encounter throughout their adventures keep the story fresh and interesting.
It is one of those books where you wonder what is going to happen next with the outcome often being somewhat of a surprise. However, while the ending is somewhat predictable, it’s execution is satisfying and surprisingly touching. I do not think you have to have read the Brightonomicon to enjoy this novel as events that took place in it relevant to Retromancer are explained. Yet, it is still enough to pique your curiosity as to the prequel!
To summarise, Retromancer is a quirky, inventive book presented in a wonderfully rambling and eccentric style. It is certainly not to be taken too seriously but is a fun and engaging read – and there’s always a surprise lurking around the corner as the characters go through their adventures.
See Jonathan's take on Retromancer.
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