Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees – there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.
Thoughts: Speculative alternate history with a steampunk literary twist, The Bookman is one book that aptly fits the name “genre,” mostly because classifying it more specifically might give one a headache. The plot is multilayered, factions working against factions, with pawns doing the dirty work for who knows who by the end of things. It’s a book that’s rich in creative thinking and creative license.
The pacing of the plot is steady and even, but still fairly slow. Many things are hinted at and revealed that, in all honestly, would probably make the most sense to people who have had a taste of the literary characters this book is filled with, but unfortunately leaves those without a classical literary education in the dust. I’m sure there were plenty of plot twists in here that would have been glaringly obvious to many but for me came completely out of left field, simply because I have not read certain great works of fiction. I was left with the feeling of a book that I could have considered great, but the lack of an insider’s view left it only on the high side of mediocre.
Which is a true shame, because it’s clear that Tidhar put a great deal of effort into developping the world in which this book takes place. Far from your average piece of steampunk fiction, The Bookman combines politics and a rather twisted sense of alternate history (England’s royal family consists of a load of extra-terrestrial lizards) into a deep story that really makes you think to wrap your head around some things. Throw in the mysterious protagonist with an unknown past and developping identity issues, and a host of characters from well-known literature, and you’ve got a cast of characters that makes the tale a page-turner despite its slow pace. You keep wanting to read just to see what crazy thing happens next.
Though it did take me a while to really get into the novel (and even then I’m not sure I was able to get as much into it as I would have liked), I have to say that I am impressed by Tidhar’s writing style, which was descriptive and endlessly witty. Even if it doesn’t rate as one of the best books I’ve ever read, I was intrigued enough to want to pick up the second book of the series, curious as to the things that Tidhar will surprise me with next.