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The Somnambulist (Domino Men #1)

3.22  ·  Rating details ·  3,986 Ratings  ·  708 Reviews
Once the toast of good society in Victoria's England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of hi theater to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist - a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed. But t ...more
Paperback, 353 pages
Published January 6th 2009 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2007)
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Oct 01, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been a reader all my life. I majored in English in college and grad school, and I’ve worked in bookstores since 1992, most of that as a buyer. I’m surrounded by books at home and work and I see new ones every day. It’s sometimes difficult to quantify why certain books speak to us; why we pick up this book, but not that one.

Other times, it’s not difficult at all:

Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvi
Feb 11, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crap
A couple of rip-off Croup and Vandemar wannabes and the mention (i refuse to say allusion, because that would imply that it somehow honors or preserves the integrity of the original) of Samuel Taylor Coolridge doth not a similarity to Neil Gaiman make. The preposterous suggestion that this book was "a fantastic journey in the spirit of Neverwhere" duped me into buying this block of bound-together toilet tissue. I finished it out of a combination of devastating idleness (I was job-searching at th ...more
I really don't know what to make of this book. It was mostly weird and didn't make a whole lot of sense. Yet, the plot was fairly simple. The characters never really developed and some of the weirdest were never explained, like the guy who claimed to be living life backwards from the future to the past. We never find out who or what the Somnambulist is. He never lives up to his potential as a character. Characters appear out of nowhere late in the story and really don't have much of anything to ...more
Jason Pettus
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

Regular readers know that I am a big fan of the unique subgenre known as "steampunk," but might not know what exactly steampunk is; and similarly, regular readers also know that one of the issues often tackled here at CCLaP is the difference between so-called "genre" projects and so-called "mainstream
I should never read the plaudits plastered on the cover of a book, nor those that litter the first few pages. I am invariably annoyed by what I find and occasionally even led astray. Luckily with John Barnes’ The Somnambulist, I was mostly faced with the former brand of upset.

According to the book company, Barnes’ style is a mix of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Susannah Clarke and a little bit of Carl Hiassen. And maybe there is something to these comparisons, but mostly I think these names are laz
colleen the convivial curmudgeon
2 1/2

Overall my impression of this book was 'meh'. It wasn't great... it wasn't horrible. It was just sort of there...

I had high hopes for this story, being a fan of stories set in Victoriana, of Poe's and Doyle's mysteries, and of the strange and outre - but I just couldn't find myself caring all that much about this story.

For one thing I don't recall ever wondering, when I read those other mystery stories, how the detective of the story got the reputation for being so great. Edward Moon seeme
I think this book may be really worth five stars, and there was a moment about thirty pages to the end where I thought, this is a five star book. Something about the end though brought it back to a four.
This is what escapist fiction should be. It's fun, it's interesting, the plot twists and keeps you guessing, and it's all done with a relative ease that doesn't make the even the most remarkable seem contrived. Sadly though most escapist (I mean non-serious literature, or fun books, or shall I s
Sep 20, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: status-borrowed
In Victorian London, aging magician and detective Edward Moon, accompanied by his assistant, a giant known only as the Somnambulist, are called in to investigate the most bizarre of murders. As Moon's investigation continues, he uncovers a plot against the statea plot which, after long preparation and much waiting, is now only days from being put into action. The Somnambulist is set in a world not quite like our own, colored by steampunk and fantasy and populated by a cast of bizarre, slightly i ...more
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mystery and fantasy lovers
I dare you to read the first two pages and not want to finish the rest of the book.

Part Victorian murder mystery, part fantastical alternate history with a liberal dash of lexigraphical acrobatics The Somnambulist combines a labyrinthine plot with haunting characters and an unreliable narrator which coalesces into an unexpected crescendo no one could anticipate.

The Somnambulist is a bald, mute giant of man who when pierced with swords does not bleed. His almost constant companion is Edward Moon,
La Fuente
Apr 07, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. Utter crap.

The opening 100 pages or so a great, lots of intriguing characters, mysteries, supernatural goings-ons. But then, as the story progresses, it becomes more and more of a (if I may apply a literary term) clusterfuck. It's just a mess of idiocy, none of it particularly interesting. By the end, the main characters become lost in a crowd of Johnny-Come-Latelys that exert way too much influence over the story.

And what do we call them, boys and girls? Deus ex machinas!
That's right. A
Oct 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror
Jonathan Barnes' brilliant debut novel, The Somnambulist, chronicles the late Victorian-era adventures of a legendary magician-cum-detective Edward Moon and his mute, hulking, hairless sidekick, known only as the Somnambulist. The two investigate a series of bizarre murders, meet a cadre of eccentrics, and involve themselves in several strange incidents that culminate in a plot to destroy and remake London.

The unreliable, unnamed narrator, who frequently raves like a madman, issues a warning in
Jul 08, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read the reviews, all telling me that the book wasn't worth it and that I should not waste my time. I did not listen because I found the opening so beguiling that I did not know how a book could possibly end up being such a colassal failure--and I figured that, given the positive quotes on the back, it couldn't be ALL bad. Well, gentle reader, I am telling you now: the opening is more true than it wants to be. This book truly does NOT have any literary merit. Believe the reviews. As they did n ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A mess of derivitive plots and characters which aspires to be something unique and intriguing, but ultimately fails to be anything more than a mush of stereotypes and unfulfilled promise.

Is this a gothic Victorian fantasy? A London-centric detective story? A dystopian steam-punk thriller? The author never seems able to make up his mind, and in the meantime, his self-aware narrator takes twists and turns which make no sense and ultimately cause the reader to stop caring at all.

The characters are
[Sits. Blinks. Shakes head.]

Last night, at midnight (how appropriate), I completed the final scheduled book for the R.I.P. VII event--The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes. Now I need to write up a review. Um. Okay. [Blinks some more.]

Yeah. It's one of those books. The kind where you finish and you just don't know what to say. The only thing that really occurs right off the bat is: Man, that was one weird little book. And I do mean weird. But I guess weird is good when you're working on a book f
Jeffrey Johnson
Jun 23, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008, fantasy
When I read the "If you liked these , you will love The Somnambulist" list that Borders put together, I decided that Jonathan Barnes' debut would have to land on my "favorites" list. It was compared to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Neverwhere, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and The Prestige, some of my most favorite things ever. It was probably a mistake going into it with such high expectations, because although it was an excellent book, I felt disappointed after I turned the last ...more
ᴥ Irena ᴥ
I don't think I have ever hated almost every character in a book until now.

First, this story has an omniscient narrator (or at least close to one). You know, the ones who tell you things like 'as you'll see, this was a mistake'. Second, the main character is supposed to be a very good detective, but not a single thing that happens confirms that. Third and this might sound familiar: he works with an assistant, he has an older housekeeper and has an addiction (not drugs, something else, but still
Jun 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
More aptly titled "The Why-Botherist"
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: dark-fantasy
The Somnambulist is a detective story about a retired detective, Edward Moon, turned conjurer (though I’m not sure what he conjures) and his sidekick the Somnambulist, a hairless milk-drinking giant. I kept waiting for Moon, the detective, to DETECT something but nope – never really did. Even in the end, the villain had to explain the entire evil plan to Moon – if only he made an evil cackle while doing so I would’ve had flashbacks to my childhood cartoon villains. Moon’s character was quite dis ...more
Colin McKay Miller
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels
Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist finds a way to keep the fantastical rather dull.

Edward Moon is a detective and magician in Victorian-era England. After a man is mysteriously murdered, Moon is brought onto the case along with his partner, the Somnambulist—a mute, hairless giant who loves milk and can be stabbed without seemingly any ill effects. There are all kinds of oddities as the novel goes on—circus freaks, bearded ladies, a man claiming to live his life backwards—and while none of it is r
A frustrating book in that it started strongly and then dissolved into a muddle about a third of the way through. The plot loosely hangs together, but (a) emphasis on "loosely," and (b) with no real underpinnings in logic or why we should care. Even fantasy (this book reads like a fantastic mystery or a mysterious fantasy - take your pick) needs logical, thought through in some detail and depth, underpinnings. Here, the plot and "purpose for being" of the book and the solution to the opening mur ...more
May 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit I kept reading this just out of curiosity of how it would all end. I mean, any book that has a bearded lady prostitute, a giant who can have swords driven right thru him without bleeding or even be hurt, is one that rouses my curiosity. The characters are definitely unlike any I had read about before, which also kept me going. I was disappointed in the main character, though. Edward Moon is supposedly a legend in his own time, renowned for solving murders. I know his prime was su ...more
I believe this was a pass-along from my Mom, but I don't remember what (if anything) she had to say about it. The quickie review: a poor-man's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Set in Victorian England, an unreliable (and 4th wall breaking) narrator introduces the reader to Edward Moon - "past forty and barrelling toward his 6th decade" - a magician whose career is (forgive the pun) waning, and his enigmatic partner, The Somnambulist. Moon is also a celebrated detective, tho it seems his last case
Mar 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, library-loan
I finished this novel a couple of days ago and haven't written anything about it so far because, honestly, I can't think of anything relevant that hasn't been written before in other reviews. It's a very good novel, somewhere between historical fantasy and horror, with a dark, witty sense of humor and an interesting narrative style. It's set in Victorian London, but the city in the book falls somewhere between China Mieville's New Crobuzon and Neal Gaiman's "Neverwhere". (Although, come to think ...more
Dec 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc
So, imagine that a magician/private detective, a time-traveler, a medium, a medium-debunker, a Scotland Yard inspector, a housekeeper, a bearded-lady of the evening, a shadowy government organization, a company called Love, a sinister "Oriental", a sideshow freak, a corpulent prisoner, a corrupt gaoler, two schoolboy hit-men, two vengeful mothers, the animated corpse of a famous poet, and a mysterious mute giant with a milk-drinking habit all run into each other in post-Victorian London, and the ...more
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book in insane in the best possible sense. I'm not sure I have ever come across more crazy wacky outrageous impossible magical and strange characters all packed in the same book. And it works. The madness of a plot, conspiracies and victorian mysteries and magic and mad poet followers and a titular mute giant with a, passion for milk, the narration trickery, the quirks of the story telling, the whole thing miraculously works and oh so well. I've read this mad adventure in a da ...more
Eve Recinella (Between The Bookends)
This book introduced me to a sub-genre of speculative fiction I have never heard of before "steampunk". Speculative fiction is a genre that I really enjoy so it comes as no surprise that I thought this was a great read! The characters are well written, delightful and wilfully bizarre. There is a certain suspension of disbelief required to appreciate the book but I urge you to give it a won't be disappointed!
Dan Schwent
Feb 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Jonathan Barnes is the author of two novels, The Somnambulist and The Domino Men. He contributes regularly to the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review and is the author of several scripts for Big Finish Productions. He is currently writer-in-residence at Kingston University.

More about Jonathan Barnes...

Other Books in the Series

Domino Men (2 books)
  • The Domino Men (Domino Men, #2)
“The city defeated him. It refused to be bent into shape; it stayed a willful, sprawling, sinful place. It even told him as much. When he walked through the gutted wreck of old Saint Paul's, he tripped and fell over a piece of rubble -- a tombstone. When he got to his feet and dusted himself down he saw that it read, in Latin, 'Resurgam' -- 'I Will Rise Again.” 8 likes
“I have long believed the city, the country, indeed the world at large to be run by precisely the wrong kind of people. From the government to the great financial institutions, the peerage to the police force, our lives are controlled without exception by the stupid and greedy, the venal, the rapacious and the undeservedly rich. How much more comfortable would it be if the rulers of the world were not the cognoscenti of the bank balance, the ballot box, the offshore account, but were drawn instead from the ranks of the everyday - honest, kind, stout-hearted, commonplace folk.” 4 likes
More quotes…