Alan's Reviews > The Anubis Gates

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
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's review
Oct 16, 2012

really liked it
Recommended to Alan by: Time's arrow
Recommended for: Defenders of the realm
Read in October, 2012 , read count: 2

Steampunk before steampunk even existed, much less was a marketing category... The Anubis Gates is nearly three decades old as I type these words. It was only Powers' fourth published novel, in fact—but this is the one that began winning him awards. I can see why. The novel holds up very well to a re-reading; I believe I got even more enjoyment out of it this time than I did twenty years or so ago when I first read it.

Like most of Powers' work, The Anubis Gates is a standalone novel, which is another thing I like. He has only written one series so far, actually, the trio of loosely-connected novels that begins with Last Call. But all of his books share the same deeply conspiratarian bent, a fascination for peeking underneath the bandages with which we hide the underside of life from ourselves.

The Anubis Gates offers just such a cryptic view of history, a seamlessly Baroque vision of pre-Victorian London which connects Egyptian eschatology; London's criminal underground; the celebrated poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron and William Ashbless (one of whom may be fictional); the Romany, or gypsies, whose now-discredited appellation was of course an allusion to Egypt; something very much like a werewolf; and... time travel.

The Anubis Gates are a way to travel through time. They are zones, of limited size and infrequent, brief—but predictable—duration, where the normal strictures of physics and geometry are weak and it's possible to step free of Heraclitus' river of time (a theme to which Powers would return, by the way, in 2007's excellent Three Days to Never). For a cinematic reference, think of the holes through time in Time Bandits (which, if you haven't seen, you should...).

Of course, it takes good old modern American know-how to figure out how to map the Gates precisely—and to use them profitably. Brendan Doyle is a Coleridge scholar in 1983, when J. Cochran Darrow, an eccentric millionaire, offers Doyle a large sum of money for his scholarly expertise... expertise which is about to become practical knowledge. What ensues is a mad chase through time and space, as everyone's carefully-laid plans get knocked askew... I'm being purposely vague here; Powers has a seemingly-endless hoard of surprises, the details of which I will not share... but it all makes a crazy kind of sense in the end.

(A note on the type, though: this particular Ace edition uses a font whose italics are almost identical to its regular face. This isn't necessarily a problem—Powers' characters tend to speak with lots of inflection anyway, and it seems to me that a more dramatic difference might have ended up being tiring to the eye. But I did have to read this copy a little more carefully than I expected to.)

Although Powers is sometimes uneven, he remains one of my favorite authors—and The Anubis Gates remains one of his very best.
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