Friday, June 02, 2006

Vellum - Hal Duncan

I'm a very harsh critic when it comes to fantasy. There's just so much formulaic dross out there, which makes the trying-out of new authors a dangerous business; in fact, the first few pages of this had me quite worried that I'd landed another dud. It starts off with a student breaking into a library to steal the ancient book of the title - so far, so mundane - but from there it becomes something else entirely; characters both real and archetypal weave through Sumerian myth, modern backwoods America, the trenches of WW1 and a whole slew of parallel universes, often all within the same paragraph...

For this reason, it's a hard book to describe, and for some people it may be a hard book to read - if you like linear stories with a beginning, a middle and an end then this probably isn't for you. The nearest (though rather inexact) equivalent, with its fragmented mixture of parallel personalities, universe-hopping and sneaky social commentary, is probably Joanna Russ's The Female Man; with a style somewhere between William Burroughs and Lord Dunsany, it is an utter joy to read. Beautifully and masterfully done.



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