Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

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