Monday, 19 May 2008
‘Iron Angel’ – Alan Campbell (Tor UK)
A couple of years ago (roughly), I read Alan Campbell’s debut ‘Scar Night’ on the basis of a glowing review from SFX magazine. I loved the dark and foreboding atmosphere and I loved the kind of imagination that could come up with a city suspended, from chains, over an abyss. I even loved the dysfunctional characters that inhabited this city; a battle angel that didn’t know how to fight and an insane poisoner amongst others. It was a real shame then that nothing seemed to actually happen, lots of style but no substance… Having said that though, there was enough goodness in ‘Scar Night’ to make me want to read ‘Iron Angel’ when it came through the door the other day. I’m really glad it I did, so glad in fact that I went out and purchased a copy of ‘Scar Night’ just to see if a re-read makes any difference. It’s an amazing read and one that will feature prominently on my list of great books from this year…
Following the cataclysmic finale to ‘Scar Night’, the Spine Assassin Rachel Hael and the Battle Angel Dill flee the city of Deepgate, the death of the God Ulcis has left a portal to Hell unguarded and the city is no longer a safe place to be. However, it appears that nowhere is safe in a world besieged on all sides; Hell wants to plunge the land into chaos whereas the Gods want to keep the land as it is but enslave humanity instead. The fate of a cast of thousands will be decided on the battlefields of Coreollis and certain characters will end the book in a very different shape to the one they started in…
I had great fun reading this book, while it has all the style and menace of it’s predecessor ‘Iron Angel’ also has a lot going in terms of plot (double-crossing, backstabbing and cheating in abundance). It was the perfect combination as far as I was concerned. It’s almost as if ‘Scar Night’ introduces the reader to the world while ‘Iron Angel’ throws said reader right into the deep end to either sink or swim. Just when I thought that I had a handle on the plot, something would happen to confound my expectations and throw me back into a story that generally moves very quickly. I say ‘generally’ because there are occasions when Campbell goes off in a flurry of descriptive prose that’s usually about the landscape that characters are passing through. I did find this jarring on occasion but as I was being introduced to places such as the poisonous depths of Cinderbark Wood or the crumbling remnants of Deepgate itself I was generally happy to let my grumbles go! Campbell has already displayed an extraordinary vision in his depiction of Deepgate, ‘Iron Angel’ sees him move outside the city and do it all over again in places such as Sandport, Cinderbark Wood and Hell itself (a location that’s awe inspiring in its structure and the multitude of creatures that live within). It’s one thing to read about what a place is like but only an author on top of his game can make a reader feel what it’s like, Campbell is definitely on top of his game in this regard.
‘Iron Angel’ is crammed full of first rate plot and world-building and it unfortunately appears that characterisation pays the price for this. There is so much going on that there doesn’t seem to be room for the characters to develop and react to what is happening to them. While the reader gets some explanation it just doesn’t seem to be enough when placed against what certain characters have to go through (Dill for example). I’m wondering if we will find out a lot more in the final book.
When placed against how much I enjoyed the book though, this seems like a small quibble; ‘Iron Angel’ shows a marked improvement on ‘Scar Night’ and promises good things for the final instalment.
Nine out of Ten.