518 PAGES · £17.99
This book is far too good to be anybody’s first novel, so expect a lot of established authors to get cross. Of course, it’s not that simple, because before Alan Campbell decided to write fiction, he worked on the design and coding of Grand Theft Auto – a benchmark among video games.
On the ramshackle roof of a tower, a boy clings to a weather vane. Thinking that nobody else is around, he spreads his wings to catch the night wind and immediately feels ashamed of himself. Dill is an adolescent angel, too scared and too browbeaten by the priests who look after him to dare to fly. What’s worse, he’s the last of his line and the descendant of the greatest of all fighting angels, who fell like shooting stars alongside their prince and fought against the armies of the Queen of Heaven.
Dressed in rotting chain mail and clutching his ancestor’s sword – now blunt and missing its pommel – Dill exists in isolation, an object of pity or scorn for the priests and soldiers who inhabit the temple in Deepgate, a city hung from rusting chains over the mouth of an abyss.
The boy has no function now that airships fight his battles for him. And even the assassin assigned as his bodyguard is unimpressive for an assassin, a girl unable to complete her training. And then there’s Carnival, a self-harming and guilt-ridden ex-angel with a taste for blood and a scar for every victim she’s killed…
Scar Night contains echoes of Paradise Lost, Gormenghast and TH White’s Once and Future King; one of Campbell’s characters even comes across as a more twisted version of Dumbledore, but you probably shouldn’t hold that against the book. It’s not perfect – there are a few too many snappy one-liners and some snatches of dialogue are better than others. But it’s quality fiction, and as the first in a sequence, it’s a hard act to follow.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood