Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis
Every year as a young man, what seemed to me a massive travelling fair came to the Town Moor, a large area of common ground in the city close to where I used to live. In the best tradition of the American midway translated to northern England, we could walk up and down lines of tents offering everything from mutant animals to bearded ladies, from flea circuses to illusionists (actually the same thing, only on a different scale of deception). Among the more interesting were the booths offering a boxing challenge. The professional fighters took on all-comers in sequence. Anyone who could last three rounds, won a prize. In all the years I watched these fights, I never saw any of the professionals lose, although there were men who boxed in the armed forces who could give the professionals a run for their money. My reaction to Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis (Tor, 2013) produces a comparable reaction. Just as I watched local men being beaten by visiting professionals, I feel I’ve just been beaten to a pulp by this book.
Yes, this is the second book of the year I’ve thrown back in the box after reading about half. It’s gumshoe vs. God, the best of three falls, three submissions or a knockout to decide the winner. The publishers seem to have decided the American market is a sucker for Christian-oriented fantasy mayhem with angels and other celestial folk getting into a lather about something important to them. In this case, the hook on which the book is predicated is that the Archangel Gabriel has been murdered. Pausing for a moment, it’s one of these paradoxical ideas that doesn’t quite work. This is one of the original group in on the Creation. In theory, he’s an immortal being, yet the book begins with him burning up in Earth’s atmosphere as his dead body is reduced to ashes (I’m not sure how the body became sufficiently corporeal to experience friction falling through the atmosphere, but this is one of the many things not dreamt of in my philosophy). Now perhaps, yes perhaps, something could have been made of this if the author had decided on an appropriate style or tone for the prose. Richard Kadrey, for example, goes for a fairly noirish contemporary style which works quite well. Tregillis attempts to conflate two relatively incompatible styles.
It seems he likes Chandler, Hammett, et al because half the prose is either a homage or pastiche depending on how polite you want to be. Well, that may be jake for you as you sip your java, but it rapidly grows tiresome. The other half is heightened fantasy speak with contemporary sensibilities and complexity deeply encoded in the vocabulary and syntax. To me, this produces a jarring mess. There are also big concept, quasi-SFnal ideas about the nature of reality and how consistency can be maintained when major events like the death of a founder member of the Universe occurs. Yes, everything is kept safe and secure when the choir all sing from the same hymn sheet and don’t blow the Jericho trumpet until the fat lady sings (or something). Frankly, this is arrant rubbish to me.
I amuses me to briefly cast around online and look at other reviews. There seems some unanimity this book is a masterpiece. Well, I’m used to being out on my own. Perhaps my atheism is getting in the way. Perhaps my advanced age means I can no longer relate to the tropes appealing to the young. Who knows. All I can say is that you should approach Something More Than Night with great caution. Ask yourself whether you want a 1940’s style Philip Marlowe acting the part of an angel in a crossbreed SF/fantasy about conflict in the celestial realm spilling over into Earth’s mundane environment. You never know. You may think this is one of the best books of 2013.