My wife’s toothache began, as do all horrible toothaches, late Friday night. By Sunday she was finally ready to call a dentist (I married the Queen of the Wusses, and being married to royalty does not have the perks one would imagine). I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep this weekend. I filled it with reading. In other words, those two novels I mentioned Friday? Both history.
Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan is what we call a ripping good yarn. It’s the first book in a new Young Adults trilogy, a steampunk adventure story set at the dawn of a World War I being fought by genetically engineered animals on one side and steam-driven mechs on the other. We get a hero from each side: from the “Clankers”, the son of Archduke Ferdinand, on the run from other Clankers because he has a clear line of descent from the aging Emperor. He’s got a loyal crew of five retainers and a Cyclops Stormwalker equipped with a cannon and two Spandau machine guns. On the “Darwinist” Side, we have Deryn, a young girl who is pretending to be a boy to join the Royal Navy; she was trained by her now-dead father to be the match of any male airman. The airships in this reality being mutated whales serving as the basis for an ecosystem that produces mass amounts of hydrogen.
Leviathan is imaginative, full of thunder if not too much blood (young adults, remember), and is just, as the Idiot Prince would say, “A roaringly good story!” I handed the book over to my 12-year-old son with no reservations.
Last night’s sleeplessness was eased by Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, which I will likely not be handing over to my son. Leviathan I consumed in two days, but Slim I gobbled down within a day, as I tweeted, “Like hot pizza after B-Fest”. It’s a berserk mixture of Donald E. Westlake, Clive Barker, Andrew Vaachs and a heaping helping of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stark, the central character, escapes from Hell, where he was sent, still living, eleven years before. A living person in Hell was a novel thing; he’s spent the time in gladiator pits, where cheating demons applied a hex here, a protection spell there, and taught him some battle magic of their own. In consequence, he’s very hard to kill, and has returned with the intent of slaying his old coven who betrayed him, and later killed his one true love in life while he was fighting nightmare creatures in the ninth circle.
What that paragraph doesn’t convey is how funny the book is, a black, mordant humor that keeps things from getting too horrifying or bleak. When the last line of a book is severed head saying, “Be quiet, the movie’s starting”, I know I’ve found a comfortable place to rest my imagination.
There are now three books I have compulsively read in one sitting: Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and now Sandman Slim. Sorry, Mr. King, but there was no way I could have read The Stand in one go. I tried, believe me.
The only problem here is, I found these two books by reading reviews of their sequels, both of which are so new my library apparently doesn’t have them yet. So, you know, Argh.
Anyway, as I write this, my wife is at the dentist. Maybe I’ll get some sleep tonight instead of reading. That would be sweet.