Author: John Meaney
Publisher: Gollancz • 345 pages • £12.99
Dark Blood follows on from Meaney’s last book, Bone Song, so closely that it’s really a continuation of the same story. We’re back in Tristopolis, Meaney’s necromantic parallel-world city where the sun never shines, buildings are made of bone and humans live beside wraiths, zombies and stranger beings. At times, the place makes Sin City look softboiled. “Easy and unusual kindness” is forbidden in eviscerating executions, while people carry around dismembered hands and eyes. Even the Marines boast, “We always leave our men behind.”
As in Bone Song, the story follows the relatively “normal” policeman Donal Riordan. Our hero has little time to come to terms with the shock reversals of the first book before he’s dropped back in the stew (with a new black heart beating in his chest). There’s a super-assassin in City Hall, a smarmy team of phone operators hiding an atrocious secret, and a conspiracy to stir up hatred of non-humans. Occasionally, the book is reminiscent of some of the Ankh-Morpork Discworld novels, with their “Glad to be gray” zombie communities.
Dark Blood is highly entertaining, the action more driven than in the first book, and seasoned with splatters of the titular liquid. You still feel a bit distanced from Riordan and his team, mind, though the non-human supporting characters have more pathos, including an office of sentient furniture and a hero motorbike. The story still feels less interesting than the world it’s set in, but that won’t stop you happily losing yourself in Meaney’s creation. But on the way out, be sure to stay on the driveway (made of knucklebone-gravel) and absolutely no frolicking in the park. There are wraiths among the trees, and they’re hungry...