Friday, 11 December 2009

‘Black Blood’ – John Meaney (Spectra)

I love dark cityscapes that are full of shadows and danger. I love a ‘police procedural’ plot in a speculative fiction setting and, most of all, I love zombies. If a book has just one of these things then you can bet that I’ll be reading about it. If a book has all three... well, you’ll have to fight to hold me back from it!
When I started the blog (what seems like a lifetime ago now) I kept hearing things about John Meaney’s ‘Bone Song’; I meant to pick this one up but never quite managed to find the time. I wasn’t going to be thrown off the scent quite so easily this time round though; when ‘Black Blood’ came through the door I made sure it was right near the top of the pile!
It’s taken me a while to get through this one, for reasons that I’ve mentioned before (the dreaded ‘Book Burn Out’) as well as reasons that I will go into later on. I’m glad I made the effort though, ‘Black Blood’ is a read that really pays off if you give it a chance...

Not even death was enough to stop Tristopolitan lieutenant Donal Riordan coming back to avenge the death of his lover. After all, it’s her heart that’s keeping him going. Riordan is now a zombie in a city where resurrected citizens are about to lose their rights in a big way. People in high office are bending the rules to suit their own ends and it’s up to Riordan to get to the bottom of things before a city full of zombies and other ‘non-humans’ find themselves in a lot of trouble.
At the heart of things is the man responsible for the death of Riordan’s lover; a man that Riordan has already killed once before...

Before I go any further, it’s worth pointing out that if you want to get the most out of ‘Black Blood’ then you really need to read ‘Bone Song’ (its predecessor) first. ‘Black Blood’ is very much a book where events from the previous book feed straight into it. While an effort is made to accommodate new readers this is in the form of asides that only really make a lot of sense if you already know the people being discussed. What I also found is that a lot of the mechanics of Tristopolis have already been discussed in ‘Bone Song’ so while the atmosphere is gorgeous (more on that in a bit) you don’t get much of an idea of how things actually work... ‘Black Blood’ can be read on it’s own but if you’re anything like me then you’re looking at a long hard slog to get into the swing of things.

The good news though is that once you get into that groove then you’re pretty much guaranteed a riveting read. That’s what I got and once I finished reading I went straight online and bagged myself a cheap copy of ‘Bone Song’, that’s how good the plot and world building was.

Even though I wasn’t sure of its mechanics, the city of Tristopolis was a great place to be taken on a tour round.. Every shadow hides something dark yet strangely compelling, every street is walk through a world that is utterly alien but full of people who are just like us. Appropriately enough, it’s the little touches that show us just how much care and attention Meaney has paid to making his work such a fully immersive experience. The wraiths that guard City Hall, the variety of ways that circumvent death and allow a citizen to still be of use in the city. All of these little touches combine to give the reader a trip through a world that is dark beyond compare yet very human at the same time.

I don’t know if it was just me being very tired but the plot itself offers the reader an awful lot to get their teeth into. It felt like perhaps a little too much at times, trying to keep track of several strands at once, and not all of the strands had an equal amount of attention paid to them... This meant that I found myself following Donal for a couple of chapters and then having to spend time trying to remember what a minor character had been up to several chapters ago. This wasn’t an ideal approach for me but the underlying concepts in the story, and the questions that they threw up, kept me reading. Bursts of action are few and far between but do propel the plot forward in the best possible way when they do occur.

Donal Riordan was an interesting character to spend time with, one that I certainly look forward to going back and filling in the gaps in his history. You don’t often get to meet a ‘sentient zombie’ and the issues that he faces in his new ‘life’ make for a fascinating counterpoint to the main body of the plot.

I’m not giving this one a mark purely because it very much feels like the concluding half to a story and I haven’t read the first half yet. Hopefully you won’t need a mark at the bottom of this to see what I thought (and there’s the fact that I’m buying the first book, that should tell you something as well!)


Fig said...

Sounds intriguing. I look forward to your review of the first book.

Erik said...

OK this had me confused for a while as I thought the story seemed familiar. It turns out that this is just the US version of the second part in the series which was published in the UK as Dark Blood. So don't order it by mistake thinking it is part 3 :)