Tuesday, 6 October 2009

‘God of Clocks’ – Alan Campbell (Tor UK)


Alan Campbell’s ‘Deepgate Codex’ has been a rather ‘stop start’ read so far, at least as far as I’m concerned. ‘Scar Night’ (which I read long before starting up the blog) married a brilliant visual concept to an evocative brooding atmosphere but fell down for me when not a lot seemed to actually happen. There was enough there for me to want to pick up the sequel, ‘Iron Angel’ and this is where things really kicked off. Everything that I thought was missing, in ‘Scar Night’, turned up in ‘Iron Angel’ to add to the original mixture and result in a storming read. The only problem I had with ‘Iron Angel’ was that I felt the characters didn’t develop as much as they could have done (not surprising, given what they were going through, but even so...)

I was left in the position of looking forward to the final instalment, ‘God of Clocks’ but not really knowing what to expect from it. For me, this series varied in quality and could go either way at a moment’s notice. Was I in for more of ‘Iron Angel’ or was I looking at an ending more along the lines of ‘Scar Night’?
As it turned out, ‘God of Clocks’ picked up right where ‘Iron Angel’ left off (in more ways than one but I’m talking overall quality here) but I was still left with a couple of reservations...

The portal to Hell is now open and the world is fast becoming a killing field that no mortal war could ever hope to match. Warring Gods square off against fallen Angels and other unnatural creatures; humanity is caught squarely in the middle and is being pushed ever closer to extinction...
The only hope is a two pronged attack on Hell itself. The former assassin Rachel Hael must travel to the stronghold of the God of Clocks but time is of the essence in more ways than one. The Angel carrying her is no match against the twelve who follow...
Heading in the other direction is the giant John Anchor, dragging the God Cospinol’s skyship into Hell to face the Lord of the Maze on his own ground. Before he can accomplish anything though, Anchor must face down an infant deity that is unlike any other.
And then time itself starts to unravel...

Being the third book in a trilogy, ‘God of Clocks’ isn’t a book that you can just pick up and get into straight away. Even if you’ve already read the first two books, you might want to pick them up again for a quick refresher (or read the Wikipedia page if there is one). I read this a year after having read ‘Iron Angel’ and, for the first few pages, didn’t have much of a clue what was going on. The reader is swiftly brought up to speed but only after being dropped in at the deep end to start off with. This creates a pacing issue right at the start and makes ‘God of Clocks’ a tiny bit less accessible than perhaps it could have been.

Keep on at it though! I did and the payoff is well worth the effort. Campbell takes everything that he did in ‘Iron Angel’ and ramps it up a notch or two, giving us a final chapter where the stakes are appropriately high and the characters are pushed to their absolute limits in order to win through (or, at the very least, survive).
Campbell writes a mean battle scene as it is, plunging the reader ankle deep in the mud and taking them through every slash and stab. He’s also the only writer I’ve ever seen who can make the ‘slow motion combat’ sequences look fresh and original (after having been horribly overdone by everyone who thought it looked good in ‘Matrix’). Not only does it look incredibly cool but there are clear consequences to using this ability which make it anything but a ‘get out of jail free’ card! If all this wasn’t enough, Campbell adds the Arconites to the mix. These are fifty foot high metal angels that can stomp the hell out of any battlefield as well as adding an otherworldly touch and an appropriately ‘hell like’ contrast to the proceedings. They do have a weakness though and I think it’s a pretty clever one that Campbell came up with...

The background setting is very much a continuation of what has gone before in ‘Scar Night’ and ‘Iron Angel’; Campbell doesn’t really do much else to it here but to be honest he doesn’t really need to. The setting and its inhabitants are left to get on with it and they work best for being left alone. Campbell’s world is dark and gloomy, just right for the tale that needs to be told but not a place where you’d want to live...
As far as the characters go, I got the feeling (again) that they weren’t being allowed to develop as much as they could. Part of this is down to the frenetic pace of the plot and what faces them; survival is far more important than character development! I did get the impression though that the plot was driving the characters to the point where they couldn’t do much else other than travel down the paths they were aimed at.

I also wasn’t too sure about the time travel sub-plot that appeared to be tacked on at the end. While everything seemed to fit together and work I couldn’t help but feel that it came to the surface a little too late in the day to be really cohesive, both in terms of this book and the series as a whole (unless it was there to tie up a particular loose end, one that I’m not sure needed tying off). A re-read might make a little more sense of it (in terms of anything being flagged up earlier on) but, for now, I’m left wondering why it was there...

‘God of Clocks’ does it’s job very well but the issues I had with the way it was put together stopped it from being the excellent book that it very clearly could have been. I still enjoyed it though and would pick the series up for another read.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

1 comment:

gheedon said...

I gave up reluctantly on Scar Night, for the reasons you mention: what was not happening in the book. I wanted to like it but it just didn't seem to go anywhere. Your review makes me want to take it up again, 'though, if for no other reason than to be able to read the other two books.