Author: Alan Campbell
Publisher: Tor • 435 pages • £17.99
There’s a March entry on Alan Campbell’s blog that would, were it not written in such a matter-of-fact manner, be positively plaintive. “It seems that for every word I left in the final draft of Iron Angel,” notes Campbell, “I deleted another two.” Having written his debut, Scar Night, with nobody looking over his shoulder, success has brought its own pressures.
Even the best writers can buckle at such times, but happily Campbell shows no signs of capitulating to what he dubs “secondbookitis”. Instead, Iron Angel is a big, bold fantasy that pulls off that most difficult of tricks with the second book in a trilogy: keeping the existing narrative moving forward, yet putting the pieces in place for the big finale.
It helps that Campbell has such a keen eye for the grotesque. When Cospinol, the god of brine and fog, arrives in Sandpor, for example, we’re invited to watch as crabs suddenly overrun a tavern. Elsewhere, the city of Deepgate itself (hanging over a vast cavern) is in meltdown; members of the Spine militia, trying to keep control, explore interesting ways to inflict pain.
Against this backdrop, former assassin Rachel tries to protect the angel Dill, who is haunted by dark visions – an outlook that’s hardly improved when Dill’s soul is transported to Hell. (Campbell’s blog again: “That a large part of the book is set in Hell is apt, since it felt like I was actually there while writing it…”)
It’s gory, nasty stuff and occasionally Campbell’s penchant for Grand Guignol becomes just too much – but such moments are rare. In the wake of the recent success of Joe Abercrombie, this is confirmation that British fantasy has another rising star.