Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner

Zombie Detective! Good Times!

My first Angry Robot Army book, and this was definitely a fun read.

Nekropolis, by Tim Waggoner
US Release July, 2010 (possibly delayed...Angry Robot's going through some changes)
UK: Now Available

Nekropolis (scroll down at the link for a free sample) is a fun addition to the recent growth of the "supernatural noir" subgenre. Indeed, it's the logical progression--we've had the Noir Wizard (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files), the Noir Vampire (Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series), and now we've got the Noir Zombie!

Matthew Richter, our hero, is a walking corpse trying to keep his body from going the way of all flesh through expensive magical preservation. He funds his need by using the particular skills he developed in a 20-year police career to help people out with the rather unusual problems they encounter in the titular city of darkness, Nekropolis. He's unique in this city of unusual beings in that he is a zombie, a walking corpse, who has retained his will and consciousness...and the reasons for this remain unclear to himself and to those around him.

The particular MacGuffin in our story, the Dawnstone, is introduced by/used to introduce our requisite femme fatale--Davona Kanti, half vampire daughter of the city's Vampire Darklord. (How someone can be "half-vampire" is not exactly clear; the unusual idea that vampires can have children is kind of glossed over. But I digress.) Davona is blonde, thin, and apparently just the thing to get Richter's dead flesh perking.

Davona's problem is simple: the Dawnstone, a powerful artifact in her father's collection, a collection which had been entrusted to her, has gone missing and she's understandably terrified that her immensely powerful and rather unsympathetic father will hold her responsible. So she approaches Richter to ask for help, having heard he does that sort of thing.

After the expected banter (the humor in the book is actually pretty good, though it does occasionally "pun"ish the reader a bit much. Be warned.), the hunt begins and finally we meet the TRUE star of our story, the city itself. The title of the book is apt, as it is clear that the reason we're here is to see the place that Waggoner built. And it's worth it!

Nekropolis is a city populated by supernatural beings, with an immense variety of residents. Waggoner seems to have taken the kitchen sink approach to populating his world; it's full of demons, wizards, undead, shapeshifters, dark gods and more--he pulls characters from mythology (werewolves, Hindu demons), classic literature (Frankenstein's Monster, Jekyll & Hyde), and, apparently, thin air (The Chiranha, a cross between a chihuahua and a piranha, and the most fearsome scavenger in the city...???). It honestly gets a little overwhelming at times, but it's fun to spot all of the references (I was particularly tickled by the name of the information peddling bug).

All of these entities are aligned with a particular Darklord, divided by "type". There are the undead, shapeshifters (called "Lykes"), Vampires, magic users, and demons, and each group has its own area of Nekropolis. As our characters are touring the city, they move through these areas and encounter the Darklord of each of these groups, and in the process we learn about Richter's history, his relationships and conflicts with the Darklords, and find out a wee bit about the history of Nekropolis itself.

Personally, I would have enjoyed more of the latter; the city is a fascinating place, and I really think its connection to our world and the reasons for its existence, while explained in brief, could do with a much deeper examination. The fact that this book is obviously the first in a series (the sequel, Dark Streets, is due this year) encourages me.

Although the ending felt a little rushed, the book is a winner for sheer imagination and page-turning fun. All of the little turns along the way keep the story fresh, and the characters inhabiting the city are engaging. I read the book in one sitting (at 416pp it's not that long) and I enjoyed it enough that I'm looking forward to more, especially given that there are a few points in this book which, I think, were designed specifically to lead to further investiagtion. For example, there are advanced cybernetic enhancements that turn up in certain fringe characters that I think will be big in the sequel(s), and I'm eager to find out.

So the bottom line: Hemingway it ain't, but for a quick summer read, for the fan of fast paced, noirish dark fantasy, this one's a winner.

Jim Rion

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