If you like your speculative fiction bubbling over with energy – part science fiction, partswashbuckler with plenty of fight action including ninjas, pirates and all-round hard men, then don’t miss this book. Harkaway’s exuberant literary style and sharp humorous observations gives his grim subject matter a rollicking feel as we experience the end of the world as we know it – and the start of something else.
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch and his fellow trouble-shooters have been hired to put the fire out. But this isn’t the straightforwardly dangerous job that Jorgmund’s boss, Humbert Pestle, has depicted. Gonzo and his best friend will have to go right back to their own beginnings to unravel the dark mystery that lies at the heart of the Jorgmund Company…
For those of you interested in such things, Nick Harkaway is the son of the celebrated spy novelist John le Carré – and the writing talent certainly runs in the family. Written in first person POV, the character jumps off the page as he draws the reader into his world, by giving us layers of detail about the world he inhabits. The book is long – in the region of two hundred thousand words. I know this because Harkaway tells us on his website – but if asked, I’d have said it was shorter. While certainly not an easy read, neither was it a difficult one. And after you get to a certain point in the plot (you’ll know exactly where I’m talking about, if you read it), it becomes very difficult to put down.
Harkaway is a martial arts enthusiast – another info-nugget I harvested from his website. But if I hadn’t read it, I think I would have already gathered that by the loving detail he lavishes on his combat scenes. They read extremely well, with plenty of pace and detail. The world-building is outstanding. You can taste, touch and feel Harkaway’s creation as his character describes it in flowing detail. Despite the humour and violence, this is also a book with soul. The descriptions of Mr and Mrs Lubitsch are suffused with tenderness and affection, so that at times I was smiling with a lump in my throat. Only a first-rate writer can pull off a trick like that.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, Harkaway throws us a major curved ball in the way of a plot twist, which I’m not even going to hint at. Suffice to say that it’s in the nature of a massive gamble. Does he pull it off? Yes – in my opinion, I think he does. My husband actually dropped the book and shouted aloud when he got to that point (he read it first).
But, for me that outstanding achievement in this book is the voice of the protagonist. All the adventure, tragedies and celebrations are filtered through this one character – and during the whole of this complicated and multi-layered narration, there wasn’t a single false note. I have a shocking memory – I regularly completely forget books within a fortnight of reading them. But I know that this one will stay with me along with the handful of other outstanding reads. Go on, give it a try. You won’t find anything else out there quite like it…