Saturday, 22 November 2014
Review: Engines of Empathy
Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The blurb compares this book to Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and there is some resemblance. I know why they picked those names - everyone knows them - but it's really more like two other writers: Jasper Fforde and Tom Holt.
It has the slightly-off-from-our-world feel, and the silly names, of Fforde, both of them turned up beyond 11. Perhaps too far; I kept tripping over the world's oddities (is the row of cinnamon in the herb garden a difference, or a mistake, since cinnamon is made from tree bark?), and the silly names are extremely silly: EGS Benedict, Anna Colouthon, and Spaniel Pudding all make an appearance. I'm no fan of punny or silly names, especially when taken so far. I put up with them in Pratchett and Adams because they do everything else so well.
It also has the setup of a Tom Holt story, or rather, of the Tom Holt story, since all Tom Holt's books are essentially the same. Loserish Britishish person's dull life is abruptly complicated by supernaturalish events. Helped by another loserish person of the opposite gender, main character overcomes the supernatural problem, and they hook up.
Having said all that, I enjoyed this much more than I've ever enjoyed a Tom Holt or Jasper Fforde book. It makes up for the silly names (just; they are extremely silly) by some beautiful passages. "Driving less like the wind and more like a sea fog..." "'I have a plan,' Drakeforth grinned. 'Did you ever think that life would be so much easier if you had a hamster called Clarence instead?' I asked hopefully."
Also, the plot is not what I expected. There's some depth to it; it manages to have some more serious and even dark moments without descending into Holtean cynicism, and the ending took me by surprise, in a good way.
With all the language play it's hard to be sure, but I did spot one definite error: "illicit" for "elicit". The ebook is also full of unexpected hyphens in the middle of words, as if it's been scanned from a print version. Otherwise, the editing is largely clean.
This is the first of a trilogy, and I'l be watching out for the others. I found out about it on the SpecFicNZ forum thread for Sir Julius Vogel Award nominations, and I'll be adding my nomination. Silly names notwithstanding.
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