Nobody’s Home: A prequel to The Anubis Gates

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNobody’s Home by Tim Powers fantasy book reviewsNobody’s Home by Tim Powers

Tim Powers’ fourth novel, The Anubis Gates, was such a perfectly crafted, fully self-contained work that I doubt very much if any of his legion of fans could have reasonably expected a sequel. Released originally in 1983, the book has gone on to become a classic of sorts in both the “steampunk” and “secret histories” fantasy subgenres, deservedly earning itself both the Philip K. Dick Award and a pride of place in Jones & Newman’s Horror: 100 Best Books. Showcasing Powers’ gift of seemingly limitless imagination combined with a staggering amount of historical research, the novel was a true dazzler; as I enthused after my initial read, its “way-out plot manages to conflate the brainwashed ‘ka’ of Lord Byron, a body-hopping werewolf, an underground criminal society headed by a deformed clown on stilts, a plucky young vengeance-seeking woman disguised as a man, Egyptian gods, 4” high ‘Spoonsize Boys,’ fire and wind elementals, the Mameluke slaughter of 1811, a menagerie of freaks, the Beatles (!) and on and on.” But as I said, the novel wrapped up so perfectly, after almost 400 pages, that no one could have possibly expected more.

Well, there is some good news now and some bad news. The good news: After 31 years, Powers has finally come out, not with a sequel, but rather a prequel to his beloved work! The bad news: The prequel in question, Nobody’s Home, is so brief that I’m not even sure it qualifies as a novella. At around 80 large-print pages, including artwork, I would qualify Powers’ work here as more of a longish short story … and whether a short story is worth Subterranean Press’ somewhat hefty cover price for the limited hardback edition I leave to your own judgment. (It will probably be released later on Kindle for a fraction of the hardback’s price.) I CAN tell you that the story here, which most readers should easily be able to devour in a single sitting, is a pretty darn good one, although ultimately the reader comes away with the feeling that this is just a footnote to a much greater work; a short, slight afterthought, as it were.

This time around, the tale centers on that vengeance-seeking woman disguised as a man, Jacky Snapp, who readers will recall actually bears the name Elizabeth Tichy; Professor Brendan Doyle, the original’s central, time-traveling character, is perforce not even mentioned here. As in The Anubis Gates, this story takes place in the London of 1810, and shortly prior to the events of the larger book. Jacky, in search of Dog-Face Joe, the body-hopping werewolf who had murdered her fiancé, Colin, here encounters a young woman named Harriet, who is being haunted and harassed by the ghost of her Indian husband. After Jacky rescues Harriet from a flaming spectral attack, it seems that Colin’s spirit is somehow awoken, too, and so the pair of young women betake themselves to the Thames barge known as Nobody’s Home, where the mysterious Nobody is said to work wonders at expelling spirits. But can this unusual personage assist the two desperate ladies before their exes’ ghosts catch up with them?

And that, as they say, is about it. While The Anubis Gates featured a story line that was astounding in its complexity, its prequel reads almost like a very simple, straightforward fairy tale. Short as it is, it fails to leave much of an impact on the reader, but is at least fast moving and colorful. The slimness of the tale does not allow for the inclusion of the wealth of historical detail that made The Anubis Gates so utterly convincing, and yet, Powers does get to show off SOME obscure bits of London arcana, including references to the London Stone, Thorney Island, the Tyburn and King Canute. Besides Jacky, the only character here who would also feature in The Anubis Gates is Skate, the legless beggar, although both Captain Jack and Horrabin (the deformed clown on stilts) are given passing references, and the backstory of Dog-Face Joe is naturally discussed. Nobody’s Home is basically just one long night, one supernatural incident that takes place during Jacky’s quest for vengeance, and I for one could have done with three or four more such Jacky stories; THAT would have made for one especially fine collection!

Tim Powers is a compelling writer, of course, Jacky/Elizabeth is a fascinating and likable character, and the supernatural and phantasmagorical London that is the backdrop for these tales is a terrific one. Ultimately, perhaps the single best thing about Nobody’s Home is that it serves as a reminder of just what a wonderful read The Anubis Gates had been, effortlessly re-creating the milieu of that earlier masterpiece. Powers’ prequel isn’t a patch on that great work, but it is a fun and undemanding diversion, at least, and, oh, those marvelous pieces of art supplied by J.K. Potter! (Just wait until you get a gander at the picture of Nobody at “full inflation”!) Taken together, Powers’ story and Potter’s artwork make for one very cute little package; a perfect souvenir/present for yourself or for the Powers fan in your life. But like Jacky, who at one point swings her fist at that Indian ghost only to encounter empty air, I suppose that I was just hoping for something a little more … substantial.


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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