Thursday, 28 January 2010

‘Heart of Veridon’ – Tim Akers (Solaris)

I generally pick the next book I’ll be reading via a mixture of genre, cover art/blurb and sheer pot luck. Picking a book to read when you’re stumbling around in the dark never fails to bring up an interesting and unexpected choice!
I also base a lot of my reading choices around certain blogs that I respect either for well thought out reviews or their ability to throw something my way that I wouldn’t normally consider picking up. Tim Akers’ ‘Heart of Veridon’ was a ‘Book of the Year for 2009’ over at Fantasy Book Critic and the accompanying Review more than piqued my interest. When the book itself came through the door I knew it wouldn’t be long before I gave it a go.
Finishing the book, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy ‘Heart of Veridon’ as much as Liviu did (for reasons that I will go into later). At the same time though, I’m glad I took the time to give this one a go...

Jacob Burn is not the kind of person you want to be standing next to on an airship; having crashed the only one he ever piloted and been involved in the crash landing of another. These days he uses his connections with the nobility to make a living in the underworld of the ancient city of Veridon. That last crash landing is about to become a lot more painful than the injuries he sustained however. A strange artefact came into Burn’s possession just before the crash and it seems like the whole of Veridon now wants to get their hands on it. It’s not just the citizens of Veridon either; something strange is stalking Burn through the streets, something that will make Jacob question everything that he thought he knew about himself and the city he has always lived in...

One thing that I’ve discovered about myself is that I love immersing myself in cityscapes when I’m reading fantasy or science fiction. I love walking along the streets of places like Viriconium (I know I’ve still got read the rest of that one!), New Crobuzon or Unta, catching furtive glimpses of dark alleyways and wondering what’s happening in them. The promise of a new city to explore got me really excited; for someone who isn’t really into travelling I do like to visit new places!
Veridon is an intriguing mix of steam-punk that’s been kicked up a couple of levels with the introduction of living metal and a religion founded on scraps of technology that drift downriver. Not only that but it hides a secret at it’s heart that makes it thoroughly worth while following the story that flows through its streets and alleys. It’s a bit of a shame then that ‘Heart of Veridon’ didn’t really give me much of a feel for the city itself. While it’s always in the background, it’s deliberately cast in a vague light that keeps the focus wholly on the plot itself. While I understand the reasons behind this, the plot is one that demands your attention, it was frustrating to have these tempting glimpses of the city that weren’t elaborated upon. What you get as a result is a plot that feels like it isn’t grounded in anything. I’m hoping for further works, in this setting, that cast more light on the city itself.

The plot itself is compelling with elements of mystery and pursuit thrown together at breakneck pace. Maybe the plot runs too quickly for the reader to get any sense of where they are? Burns is presented with a mystery that seemingly has no connections to him even though he is fully involved. Watching the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together is a joy (although slightly bewildering, I might need to re-read this one just to completely ‘get it’). Absolutely no-one can be trusted and a double cross can easily become a ‘triple cross’ or even more; this inevitably results in gunfire and fights with a creature that has to be seen to be believed. The uncertainty surrounding the plot certainly kept me on my toes and kept me reading. Jacob Burn is a character that I was more than happy to follow on his journey. Although he can sometimes verge on being the stereotypical ‘thug with a heart of gold’, Burn is a character who demands your attention by using his wits to get out of trouble in increasingly ingenious ways; definitely one to keep an eye and I hope we see more of him soon.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a book that ends as abruptly as ‘Heart of Veridon’ and this wasn’t good as far as I was concerned. You can usually tell if a book is about to spawn a sequel or not and it’s good for the reader to have some clue in this regard. ‘Heart of Veridon’ isn’t obliging and left me wondering, ‘what now?’ A great way to have the book make a lasting impression; not so great if the reader is left wondering whether the story has ended or not...

‘Heart of Veridon’ is a book that suffers from a lack of background for the plot to ground itself on; sometimes I found myself thinking that this book could be set anywhere... There are enough hints to keep you going though and the plot is ultimately rewarding although a little too abrupt in it’s end. If there is another book in this setting I would pick it up.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten


Unknown said...

There is another book coming. It was announced relatively recently on the author's blog that he'd finally got word from Solaris about it or at least was able to talk about it openly. I think there was some problems because of Solaris changing hands, so he wasn't sure if he'd get a contract for another book and stuff.

I think there's also some short stories in this setting, and it was possibly one of the contributing reasons to my buying the new science fiction 3 anthology.

ediFanoB said...

I bought the book based on Liviu's review. Even with the abruptly end you mentioned in your good review it seems still worth reading. Unfortunately it is not under my top ten of my TBR. I should read more books instead reading and commenting reviews ;)