Lavie Tidhar was kind enough to honor me with an opportunity to review his upcomming steampunk novel The Bookman.
So here are my thoughts and impressions:
The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar
Since this is a pre-release review of The Bookman, I shall try to put as few spoilers into it as possible.
Set in an alternative version of 19th century earth, with a point of divergence to our timeline sometime in the early 16th century, The Bookman is without a doubt the most enjoyable, fascinating and captivating book I have read in a long time. It has managed to claim the throne as my favorite steampunk novel from Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams.
The Bookman is steampunk on multiple levels. Not only because of the plot and the world with its automatons, simulacra and the giant space cannon, it is also in itself an intricate work of art, very much like clockwork. The story’s depth is revealed piece by piece, gear by gear, during the entire length of the novel up until the end, which makes for a very exciting and captivating read.
The reason for its ability to have constantly kept my attention is simple: Whenever I thought I finally understood what was going on and what motivations the protagonists had, another layer of the plot was revealed, another important detail added. This way, a number of theories about what was really going on were shattered and The Bookman kept on surprising me.
It took me very much until the last chapter to piece all the details together, combine all the different gears and cogwheels to one beautiful apparatus, to grasp the full expanse of what was actually going on right from the start of the novel. Finally in the end I understood and was left with the images of a truly fascinating story and world in my mind.
But it is not only the depth of the plot, its many twists and mysteries which kept me glued to its pages, it is also the cast of characters and the many striking details of the world, which make this book so enjoyable.
Lavie Tidhar creates his own reality in which I, while following the main protagonist Orphan, met well known fictional characters and real historic people and sometimes the person and their fictional invention. Jules Verne plays a part in the story and is very much involved in the machinations of the novel’s namesake, the Bookman. He is accompanied by Robur and he takes Orphan on a ride on board the Nautilus and also The Nautilus.
Others are only mentioned in conversation, like Dr. Marbuse, Lovecraft’s Herbert West, even Sherlock Holmes.
Further real-world Victorian notables who play their part range from Karl Marx to Isabella Beeton.
Books, rather unsurprisingly, in many ways also play a significant role in this novel. Books lead the way, books are powerful and books blur the borders of reality. There is a room where Orphan investigates a bookshelf stacked with books that feel strange to him. The titles on the shelf include The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism and De Vermis Mysteriis.
Blurred reality, illusions and deceptions are recurring motifs in The Bookman. This too, adds to the fascination of this novel. After a while I knew that there would be another twist and another layer revealed, yet I could not say when this would happen and what impact it would have on the story and the development of the plot.
However, it is only the reader and the characters who get deceived. The plot itself remains coherent; all the events which unfold make perfect sense and reveal the complete picture in the end.
One final fascinating element of the novel I shall not go pass without mention is Lavie Tidhars use of mythology. Many elements of earth’s mythology, mostly from the ancient Near East, flow into the novel. Orphan also encounters a number characters who, for one reason or another, are in possession of acient secrets and long forgotten tales. Mentioned in the margins are surprising details of The Bookman’s version of earth and its history, which in combination create a whole new mythology with Les Lezards, The Bookman, The Binder and Orphan as the focal points and keystones.
At the end of the novel, there are still many unanswered questions and some events to which the story has built up towards finally happen.
Although the story of The Bookman is finished and Orphan has gained what he wanted, there are many things the sequel can latch onto.
I am looking forward to the next chapter of this saga: Camera Obscura
So, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Bookman to any and all Steamunks out there, it is one captivating read, set in a beautiful, strange world, not really like our own but also not too far removed.
Get it, you won’t regret it!
You can get it here: