Homunculus by James P Blaylock

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Homunculus by James P Blaylock

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A group of scientists seek to uncover the truth about aliens in an alternative Victorian London.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 400 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Titan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857689825

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What could possibly be the connection between a mechanical toy crocodile that eats birds, a giant emerald, an oxygenator device for a spaceship and a tiny alien man with the power of life and death? The answer, of course, is that each item on this unusual list has been placed inside one of four identical boxes. The boxes are hidden in various locations in order to prevent the contents from falling into the wrong hands, but evil has a habit of seeking things out....

Homunculus is a zany adventure, set in an alternative Victorian world full of mad scientists, reckless heroes and pantomime villains. To say that the plot is convoluted would be an understatement, as the elaborate narrative includes, amongst other things, references to aliens, perverse machines, carp glands that reanimate the dead, a false messiah and a pair of skeletal hands with a penchant for piano playing.

The style of the book swings precariously between Wodehouse-inspired jolly humour and dark, brooding horror. This approach seems to jar somewhat, with the resulting narrative an uneasy mix of clashing styles that prevents the story from flowing as smoothly as it should. The cluttered plot is peppered with too many side-stories and superfluous characters, making the story difficult to follow at times. The pace at the beginning of the book is painfully slow, with several rather dull chapters wasted on a group of men sitting around in a tobacco shop, talking and smoking.

Despite the slow start, the book does have a few redeeming scenes, some of which are absolute gems. My favourite was a scene where one of the characters had been captured and locked in a dark room that is being used to reanimate corpses. A grim looking corpse lies motionless on the slab before him, along with the skeletal cadaver of a peahen, the remains of his captor’s lunch. Suddenly, the man senses something moving. A trick of the mind? Perhaps. The scene is written in such a way as to crank the tension to the maximum.

The characters in the book are instantly forgettable and have no depth. For example, the main villain, Narbondo, is undoubtedly evil, thinking nothing of murdering women and children and using their remains for his own purposes. But beyond this, the author gives us no clue as to why the character acts this way. I also disliked the way that Blaylock marks his villains with some sort of physical affliction, whether it be a hunchback or a skin disease. Some of his physical descriptions seem mocking and cruel and served to alienate me as a reader.

I’m in no doubt that Homunculus will have a loyal band of cult fans, but sadly, I cannot count myself as one of them. I found the plot of the book complicated and silly, the humour out of place and occasionally crude and the characters badly drawn and weak. I was disappointed by this book.

For a more engaging and entertaining Blaylock novel, I would recommend The Ayleford Skull.

Buy Homunculus by James P Blaylock at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Homunculus by James P Blaylock at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Homunculus by James P Blaylock at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Homunculus by James P Blaylock at Amazon.com.


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