Tim Powers,
The Anubis Gates
(Ace, 1983)

Tim Powers is, to put it plainly, the best fantasist working in the genre. Period. One read of The Anubis Gates will prove it to anybody's satisfaction; I know it's done so for me.

My God, what a book. Simply the ideas of time travel and dopplegangers that Powers puts forth here (not to mention his teriffic eye for Victorian period detail, and his brilliant, believable characterizations of notable figures of the time) are a delight.

Unfortunately, I can't talk too much about the plot without giving it away and ruining the immense pleasure reading this book for the first time will give you. I can speak in generalizations, however -- such as the manner in which Powers' protagonist becomes unstuck in time, which is so pedantic as to be wholly believable; or Powers' expert pacing and timing, which help the novel to tick away like Swiss clockwork; Powers' delicious sense of atmosphere and mood, which add to the Victorian setting just the right flavor of danger and eerie magic bubbling just under the surface of things; Powers' understanding that human beings are frail creatures, especially in the time period he's writing about (when his characters get hurt, man, they HURT!); Powers' impeccable plotting.

And it is this last, most of all, that makes The Anubis Gates what it is -- for as fans of the fantasy and science fiction genres know, time travel is very difficult to write about effectively, and only the very talented can make even a conditional success of the job. Powers is one of the best -- rather than leave behind all manner of loose ends and creating more paradox than closure with his story, Powers instead makes sure that everything is tied up by the novel's last line. Everything that happens in The Anubis Gates happens for a reason, and nothing, not a moment, is wasted on unnecessary business.

Not only is the book's ending completely seamless, it is also a total surprise: you'll think you know what's about to happen, but Powers will (I guarantee) pull the rug right out from under you. The only other artists I know of who were so completely able to fool their audience were Cornell Woolrich, Ira Levin and Alfred Hitchcock; Powers is every bit as good.

The Anubis Gates, by reason of its brilliantly-imagined world and Powers' strong, effective characters and plot, is one of the greatest fantasy (or science-fantasy, or whatever the hell you want to call it) novels I've ever read. If you care at all about the genre, you MUST read, not only this book, but everything else by Powers that you can lay your hands on. You owe it to yourself -- and to Tim Powers as well, because as far as I'm concerned he doesn't get anywhere near the recognition he deserves.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Jay Whelan

31 July 2010

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