Thursday, 7 July 2011

John Meaney: Bone Song (2007)

Back in February, I reviewed Absorption by John Meaney, wondering why the author of that somewhat tedious novel was described by Stephen Baxter as having "rewired SF". Bone Song, Meaney's début, is why.

While not as revolutionary as Baxter's praise suggests, Bone Song starts in a marvellously atmospheric and imaginative manner, evocatively written with a compelling central character. The setting is Tristopolis, not just the "city of sadness" its name suggests but somewhere where death is all important; ghosts and zombies are among the citizens, and wraiths power many machines, while a mystical process applied to bones provides the fuel in the city's power stations. Donal Riordan is a policeman in Tristopolis, assigned to protect a visiting opera singer: she is the next potential victim of a killer who is murdering creative people because their bones can be used to experience a "high".

The excellence of the first hundred pages is not maintained. Much of the middle of Bone Song seems to this reader to consist of dull running around by Riordan and his colleagues, provoking a tedium which perhaps makes it more true to life than many police procedurals. The interest does pick up again towards the end, and, while it never shows sufficient originality to justify Baxter's praise, Bone Song remains an intriguing novel.

In a further bout of hype, the back cover also describes Bone Song as "an extraordinary melding of visionary SF and dark horror". This might have been more convincing if China Miéville and Neil Gaiman (to pick two writers who came to mind while reading this story) had never published their fiction. While the background is more like Miéville, there is a stylistic influence from comic books which suggests Gaiman. There is even a paragraph where Meaney uses a common comic book technique where dialogue is interrupted by action but then continues as though nothing had happened: along the lines of three frames containing "Stop..." | THUD | "...that" as text.

As for a rating: I'd give the first and last thirds 9/10, and the middle 3/10, which averages to 7/10 overall.

Edition: Gollancz, 2008
Review number: 1427

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