Oftentimes when the term "fantasy" is bandied about, people conjure
up immediate Tolkien-esque images: wizards, Elvish warriors, Rings
of Power, trolls, and other elements of the genre that have become
very typical. It is because that imagery is so commonplace that
when someone comes along like, say, Mervyn Peake or China Mieville,
and darkens the notion of fantasy with grit, gloom and intensity,
readers really take notice.
Alan Campbell may soon tire of comparisons to Peake and Mieville,
but that doesn't mean they are not deserved. Campbell weighs in to
the fantastic, giving us the dreary and spectacular city of
Deepgate in his debut novel, SCAR NIGHT. This endeavor, upon first
inspection, could have been buried by its premise, but instead
Campbell deftly weaves a startling and mysterious story through the
dark streets of an equally mysterious city and leaves readers
groaning for the sequel.
Deepgate is like no other city you've visited. It hangs suspended
over a black abyss that is supposedly the realm of Ulcis, a God
known as the Hoarder of Souls. Great chains hold the city in
place...though what they're connected to none can rightfully say.
Airships bring business and travelers to and fro, though why anyone
would come here is another story. Deepgate is a wound, a
dilapidated and sinister city where every road is an alley and
every walk out is a potential last trip.
Then there is Scar Night. The foolish fail to stay hidden behind
locked doors, for on this night, as she has for thousands and
thousands of years, the angel Carnival comes to Deepgate to
While this all may seem enough for a novel, there is oh so much
more. Enter Dill, the last archon and now just old enough to begin
his duties. Rachel, an assassin who is part of a force trying to
hunt down Carnival, takes Dill under her charge. She is hard, cold
and demanding. And then there is Devon, the Poisoner, who has his
own devious plot to concoct a potion of immortality, which requires
the gathering of souls.
Dill may seem to be the eternal youthful hero, but he is really far
more detailed than you expect. In fact, one of the great aspects of
Campbell's writing is that each of his characters is so well
defined and so interesting that it is hard not to be drawn to them,
even Carnival and Devon. Dill is likable in his naivete and his
desire to succeed, as well as the weight of the burden of being the
last of his kind. Rachel, though rough, has a side she refuses to
yield to fully, holding back a piece of herself out of fear of
losing herself forever. Campbell's most outstanding creation,
however, is Carnival, the scarred angel who feeds and enjoys what
she does but feels despair afterwards. None of these characters is
cookie-cutter nor are they paper thin.
A second strength of the author is his utter disregard for laying
out the bare bones of his story for readers. Getting into SCAR
NIGHT may seem like work initially, but that is only because you
are made to feel like you've just arrived. You cannot know
everything about a place right from the outset, and Campbell makes
you work for the information. He will give you the nuggets you need
as you progress, yet you will still be left with questions.
What are those chains attached to?
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 23, 2011