Steven Wu's Book Reviews
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Anubis Gates
by Tim Powers

A book review by Steven Wu
http://www.scwu.com/bookreviews/
November 28, 2002

Rating: 8 (of 10)

Anubis Gates is a fast-paced and exciting read that falls just short of being a truly great science-fiction novel. The main virtue of the book is its unique and imaginative setting, a 19th-century London filled with deformed clowns, organized beggar societies, insane homunculi, and magic. The book's protagonist, Brendan Doyle, is a mild-mannered historian who is thrown into this dangerous setting when he accepts an assignment to go back in time with a group of rich travellers as their guide. After an overly brisk introduction, and an equally superficial explanation of the mechanics behind time travel, Doyle finds himself in a place and a time where the laws of physics give way to the looser standards of magic, and where horror follows wonder at every turn.

Doyle is a pleasant enough protagonist, although he can be very slow at understanding the situation before him, like the unwitting teenagers in bad slasher films. Unfortunately, his character matters much less to the book than the plot, which churns along so quickly that by the end it becomes difficult to understand exactly what is going on--especially in the completely baffling climactic sequence. But the biggest problem with the plot is its disjointed nature. Unlike other time-travel novels (To Say Nothing of the Dog is a premier example), Anubis Gates is anything but tightly plotted. Powers introduces plot elements obviously for the sake of convenience; those elements scarcely figure into the plot until the very moment that they're needed, at which point they're completely expended, never to re-appear. Powers also tends to stick to one plot thread for several chapters, then leap to another plot thread that used to be significant, but now merits only a couple of pages to completely wrap up (the end of the Dog-Faced Jack plot thread is among the most egregious examples). The end result is a collection of plot threads, none of which are unresolved at the end--but many of which are left dangling for very long times, only to be tied up in a hurry.

This is not to say that Anubis Gates isn't a fun ride--it is, and Powers's imagination goes a long way toward making the book a page-turner long into the night. The problem is just that, with some more attention, it could so easily have attained the status of a modern science-fiction classic.

Copyright © 2002 Steven Wu

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Steven Wu's Book Reviews