fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Lavie Tidhar The BookmanThe Bookman by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s new novel The Bookman is an alternate history of Victorian England that focuses on the authors of the era, as well as many of their fictional creations. For some, this clever premise may strongly recall Alan Moore’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Is that a problem? Most will argue not since, like Moore, Tidhar has a great deal of fun stirring up trouble in the Victorian Era and then setting his poets and canonical characters on the trail of a mysterious villain.

There’s a rather surprising number of things wrong with Victoria’s empire, not the least of which is that Victoria and her court are all members of an alien race of lizards, known as “Les Lézards.” Everything is upside down: criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty is Prime Minister and the ingenious thief Irene Adler works for Scotland Yard. Even perennial troublemaker Oscar Wilde suffers at the hands of pranksters that distract him from his latest work, “The Importance of Being Something.” If people are mocking Wilde rather than the other way around, all bets are off.

In the midst of all this literary chaos, a mysterious terrorist known as “The Bookman” has returned to London. Using explosive books, he has made it his goal to bring down Les Lézards and their Everlasting Empire. He also commands an army of automatons…

Caught up in all this unrest is Orphan, an aspiring poet who sadly doesn’t know his real name or who his mother was. However, when we meet Orphan, he is in love with Lucy. Before they can marry, Lucy is killed in an explosion during the launch of the Martian Probe. Orphan sets out to discover who killed Lucy and why, but soon finds himself being used as a pawn by larger forces.

In The Bookman, Tidhar has created a wonderfully clever world, relying either on a house full of Victorian-era books or a heavily stamped library card and late fees. Either way, many of Tidhar’s creations are fantastic, a standout being the simulacra of Lord Byron, a robot designed to recall the great Romantic poet. With a sigh he will admit that he doesn’t have the original Byron’s love of poetry.

Tidhar’s allusions to Victorian Era authors, personalities and characters are many, ranging from Le Mettrie to Jules Verne to Nicola Tesla, and it’s a lot of fun keeping up with all these references. However, some will find that Tidhar gets caught up having fun with his automatons, his alien aristocracy, and his revision of the Victorian Era at the expense of character development. Consequently, some readers may struggle to identify with Orphan and his unusual journey.

However, there is more than an interesting premise at work in Tidhar’s new novel, and The Bookman is not just a book for English majors (though having read broadly certainly won’t hurt). At heart, The Bookman is driven by mysteries. What do the Lizards want? Is Lucy still alive? Orphan’s quest to find out what happened to his fiancée quickly takes him into a world of automatons, pirates, and royal intrigues, but will he ever be something more than a pawn?

~Ryan Skardal

fantasy book reviews Lavie Tidhar The BookmanThis steampunk take-off on Jules Verne doesn’t fulfill the promise of its title. The characterization is lacking, and the plot seems to be more an exercise in touching steampunk bases instead of creating anything original. I was disappointed.

~Terry Weyna

The Bookman — (2010-2012) Publisher: LATE EXTRA! BOMB OUTRAGE IN LONDON! 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? His quest to uncover the truth takes him from the hidden catacombs of London on the brink of revolution, through pirate-infested seas, to the mysterious island that may hold the secret to the origin not only of theshadowy Bookman, but of Orphan himself… 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. File Under: Steampunk [ Alternate History! | Reptilian Royalty! | Diabolical Anarchists! | Extraordinary Adventure! ]

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  • Ryan Skardal

    RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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