Monday, September 12, 2011

Review of "Anubis Gates" by Tim Powers

Anubis Gates is, plain and simple, time travel as it should be told.  Never a gimmick or anachronistic moment, the story holds up well to inspection for annoying plot loopholes and deus ex machini that plague many time travel stories.  Powered by voodoo, the book is a shining example of the positive nature fantasy can add to history for storytelling purposes.

Much in the vein of Dan Simmons’ historical fantasy, Anubis Gates is the story of the modern day scholar on British romantic poets, Prof. Doyle, and what happens after he is taken to hear - in person - a lecture from one of his most admired historical personages, Samuel Coleridge.  The magic that takes him there is Egyptian, but he runs into the likes of Byron, Pope, and Warton along the way.  The poets, however, do not turn out to be anywhere near as interesting as the host of other people Doyle encounters after being stranded in 19th century London.  Dr. Romanelli, a powerful magician and his spring shoes, Horrabin, the evil beggar clown who walks on stilts, and Dog Face Joe, a man who becomes a werewolf if he doesn’t change skins quick enough, all these and many more characters romp about, chasing one another, trying to solve murders, pursuing immortality, and learning who is actually who in historical terms.  Yes, the plot twists and turns, but never at such a rate to befuddle the reader.  Powers’ tight and focused prose wonderfully balances description with narrative to constantly have the story on the move while at the same time riding that fine line between mystery and clarity, revealing just enough to lead the reader on.  

Much more fiction than history, Powers nonetheless successfully utilizes voodoo magic, the romantic poets and period London to tell a brilliant time travel story that does not leave the reader ashamed.  Characterization is rich and colorful, the setting detailed perfectly for the story, and the plot constructed wonderfully.  There may be deeper elements, allusion, symbolism, etc., but as I am unfamiliar with British romantic era poetry, Anubis Gates remains a true storyteller’s book and comes recommended as a relaxing holiday read.  If only more time travel stories had such integrity.

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