Gabrielle's Reviews > The Bookman

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar
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Aug 23, 11

Read from July 25 to August 20, 2011

The thing about steampunk novels is that they make you want to Google everything. It’s the reimagined history element that does it; the fascinating with British Romantic poet Lord Byron and the English inventor Charles Babbage alone will leave you guessing what’s fact and what’s fiction. The urge to search is even stronger with Tidhar Lavie’s novel The Bookman thanks to cameos by Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling, and Jules Verne.

Externalities alone make The Bookman is irresistible. David Frankland’s gorgeous cover illustration is worthy of professional framing and the title is one that no book nerd can ignore. Dig a little deeper and a quick thumb through shows literary epigraphs at the start of each chapter.

Set in Victorian London, as one would expect from a steampunk novel, The Bookman, laden with questions at every turn and sparing with its answers, is a riddle to its core. Although the multiple twists can be confusing if not read with the utmost care, the mystery is one of the driving forces of the book. The unresolved relationships between characters, their conceivable motivations, and possibly most compelling, the unknown origin of the protagonist, Orphan, keeps the eyes moving and the pages turning.

Orphan, both a name and an apt description, is a poet-hopeful and a lackadaisical employee and resident of Payne’s Booksellers. Although the store is owned by a known seditionist and doubles as a meeting place for those looking to overthrow the government—an alien reptilian race known as Les Lézards, the Lizard Kings, who have infiltrated Britain and now occupy the empire’s throne—Orphan’s earthly concerns extend little beyond his romantic interest, Lucy, a slightly aloof, whale-loving girl. Head-over-heels for her, Orphan proposes one night and all seems right with his world.

Unfortunately, the political climate, growing tense by the day, can no longer be ignored. Terrorists, presumably headed by the Bookman, an esoteric and feared figure, have begun setting off bombs in the public arena with deadly consequences and Lucy, unwittingly, becomes a casualty of another attack. Heartsick and desperate, Orphan is forced to play the Bookman’s game, becoming his pawn and setting off on a preternatural adventure.

The vividity of the worlds Orphan passes through on his quest to retrieve his one true love is a strength of Tidhar’s writing. His lyrical prose and use of metaphor ties the fantastical elements to an emotional realism. The outcome is a romantic voyage along the boundaries of absurdity.

The Bookman was a fun and engaging read; Tidhar’s imagination, responsible for creating a world of royal lizards, convincing simulacrum, multicultural pirates, and a shifting island with a strict entrance policy, is something I look forward to experiencing again in his follow up, Camera Obscura.
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