Brad's Reviews > The Anubis Gates

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
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's review
Oct 17, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, speculative, sci-fantasy

More time travel than steampunk, although it has been categorized as the latter, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates is fun, but it leaves one feeling a little short changed.

The problem is that Powers' story has the narrative scope of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, but it is packed into a mere 380-ish pages. Beggar's guilds, Egyptian wizards, Romantic poets, business magnates, and prize fighters mix with cross dressing vengeance seekers, mad clowns, body snatchers, fire elementals and gypsies. Time slips from 1983 to 1810 to 1660-something and back to 1811, seemingly following a linear path of cause and effect, then spilling paradoxically into a strange whirlpool motion where effect can be cause before effect.

And all of this is tremendously effective.

It generates curiosity, makes one read at high speed, fills the imagination with wonder and provides great entertainment, but it is not enough.

There are huge gaps in the tale, like Brendan Doyle's/William Ashbless' time in Egypt, where the story jumps too quickly, leaving the promise of more adventure -- sweeping adventure, epic adventure -- unfulfilled.

Powers creates characters so compelling, even his supporting characters, that one finds oneself wanting more, but the more never comes. We spend a tantalizing amount of time with Horrabin, the puppeteer-clown-beggar master, but it is never enough. We barely get to know Powers' versions of Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and then they are gone. There is simply never enough of these characters, and it leaves one feeling cheated.

So in case you haven't already guessed, the great failing of The Anubis Gates is that it leaves the reader wanting more -- too much more. Occasionally that feeling can be healthy, but in this case it is mostly frustrating. Had Powers reduced the scale of The Anubis Gates, or increased the size of his story to match the scale, it could very well have been his masterpiece. But without serious alterations, The Anubis Gates is little more than an entertaining sci-fantasy confection that is difficult to recommend.

But recommend it I shall, to anyone who likes time travel or creepy clowns or good, old fashioned chases. No matter how frustrating The Anubis Gates is, it is never boring nor a waste of time.
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04/25/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Clouds (new) - added it

Clouds It got on my list because it was namechecked as one of the books that inspired the term Steampunk - but I haven't heard many entirely positive reviews...

message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert I'd take 380 pages and wanting more over 1000s pages and wanting less, much less, please stop! Stop! For pity's sake stop! Oh I give I did with the Baroque Cycle...

message 3: by Clouds (new) - added it

Clouds Noooooooooo!
The Baroque Cycle = my new best friend =D
(I'm currently between books 2 & 3 and loving it)

message 4: by Robert (new)

Robert Each to their own...

Terry I tend to agree with your assessment here in general with Tim Powers. I find him, for me at least, to be much better at coming up with a really awesome idea than at executing it. I may need to re-read this to re-evaluate my opinion, but I remember being pretty underwhelmed by it. So far my favourite Powers book is Declare which I partly found so awesome because it was such a good mimicking of Le Carre with the supernatural mixed in.

message 6: by Brad (last edited Aug 27, 2012 08:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad I love that I wrote this four years ago and only now is there comments. Goodreads is fun and funny that way.

I have permanently stalled between book two and three of the Baroque Cycle. And I am stalling out on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell too. Something about those endlessly sprawling books, desperately in need of a trim, drives me to distracttion.

I may try out Declare someday, Terry. Looks interesting, and the Le Carre feel would be a big Powers improvement.

message 7: by Robert (new)

Robert I never made it past volume 1 of the Baroque Cycle and vowed never to read anything by Stephenson longer than 450p. Needless to say, I haven't acquired any of his recent work...

Terry Word Robert! I'm with you there.

message 9: by Clouds (new) - added it

Clouds But I love Stephenson's sprawling books!
They remind me of cats.
(I'm grinning even trying to articulate this)
It's that endlessly curious nature.
The 'journey is more important than the destination' ethos.
I'm pretty sure I'll love Stange & Norell when I get to it!
Feel free to send any more of this ilk my way :-)

message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert I recommend War & Peace; much more worthwhile than the Baroque Cycle or Strange & Norrel (which I only made it half way through).

message 11: by Brad (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad The last book of Stephenson's I really enjoyed was Cryptonomicon, but even that sprawled over the sheets like a Sherpa passed out after a bar binge.

message 12: by Robert (last edited Aug 27, 2012 09:20AM) (new)

Robert Brad wrote: "The last book of Stephenson's I really enjoyed was Cryptonomicon, but even that sprawled over the sheets like a Sherpa passed out after a bar binge."

True of me, too, in terms of chronological order of publication - though it was actually the first I read.

The unsung Zodiac is his best and shortest book, in my view; and I think the two are linked.

message 13: by Leo (last edited Jun 20, 2013 06:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leo Walsh Wow. I preferred this book to the Baroque Cycle by a wide margin. In fact, I barely finished the first book of the Baroque. Stephenson gives much back-story, which reads like copy and pasted Wikipedia material In the end, this obscures his main action. Stephenson even does this in books of his that I enjoyed -- "Snowcrash," for instance.

Powers, as you indicated, creates vibrant characters and terse action. He accomplishes this through editing. He removes excess, both actions and words, and all but eliminates adverbs -- tricks which Stephenson needs to learn. Because Powers edits to bring a reader's focus to their story. Stephenson's style, on the other hand, obscures. He has great ideas, but fails in execution.

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