Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Microreview [book]: For A Few Souls More by Guy Adams

The superb final part of The Heaven's Gate Trilogy

This book may come out of nowhere for those of you unfortunate mortal souls who are damned to ignorance of Adams and his fun, complex, horrific, humorous and largely brilliant work in this trilogy so far. I reviewed the first and second instalments on NOAF last year (back when we still said 'The Meat'). If even vaguely interested in reading his delightful mixture of Philip Pullman and Sergio Leone, then please do look at my articles on The Good, The Bad and The Infernal  (which I mistyped as Internal, whoops) and Once Upon A Time In Hell  first before reading this, as you may want to avoid SPOILERS ahead.

Now, whilst my cat still looks like Lee Van Cleef, I am still no nearer a Westerner in the dusty, horse-riding sense of the word, and have moved to an even more Englishy bit of London. There are deer in the park next door, and the park has a palace in it. And the palace has a pub in it. Also I am now a dad, so having been reading this in tiny bursts at night rather than in the leisurely, long gulps of a year ago. With such a skewed (and sleepy) perspective, I was therefore concerned I would be less enthralled by the finale of this trio of fantasy western horror adventure. I was wrong. As wrong as it is that there are Canadian geese in the park. Talk about an immigration problem. They are so noisy. And take all the best jobs on the pond.

Adams in fact improves on the previous two novels. Admittedly, he might well be helped by less of a need for exposition and gradual builds, as with any final chapter, yet he introduces new central characters and expands his universe ever-further, so complicating his task ever-further. And whilst he wastes no time in leaping into the action, he allows space and atmosphere to soften the breakneck pace of the plot, and deepen the experience for the reader. There is world-changing drama unfolding, yet there is always time for a fresh bizarre freak of Hell to enjoy hearing about, or a poignant yet grizzled view of the situation by one or another.

He begins as he ended 'Once Upon...'. (spoilers) To start any book with God in the form of a little girl with a fatal bullet-hole in their head is... well, it is bold. And risky, too. Whilst Samuel Goldwyn famously wanted stories that started with an earthquake and then built to a climax, British-born Adams (now residing in the spaghetti western location of Spain) could easily have overdone it with the insane and shocking yet very entertainingly-bonkersness of God being murdered, and then had nowhere to build up from that. Thankfully this is no Alien3 reboot, nor no Return of The King sludgy-trudge through fudge.

What is more, the novel explores 'heaven' and 'hell' in finer detail, answering many of the questions left hanging before, and the additional characters, particularly the Mitty-esque Arno and the priapistic Popo, who in very different ways bring the story forward. There is a danger at times like in the earlier parts of too many strands of action, of too many people, and at least twice I quietly despaired of another introduction another character. Yet the pace is near-flawless and the compassion and fun metered out to each new figure is well-measured. And, crucially, what strikes me as a potential minefield of storytelling - depicting the afterlife and religion in an entertaining yet subversive way - is simply relished by Adams. God is 'dead', and Lucifer has his eyes on the Oval Office, but it all sort of, well, just works, in a way that it shouldn't, that genre pieces so rarely do.

There are elements that don't entirely work for me, and I would have enjoyed less of the monks and the long descriptions of Hell's freaks' wild physiognomic characters. Also, I did feel that perhaps the tale did end a bit like a swift wrap up rather than a profound end, and perhaps the earthquake start was in fact overshadowing the work. But it doesn't matter. For, just as we are all online moaning over a myriad points about how The Force Awakens, we are nevertheless interested enough to engage. And For A Few... is nothing if not engaging, compulsive reading.  In short, strap on your boots, pull up your scarf and kick your heels, because this crazy trilogy is well worth a read. Just try and get to it when you have the time. They are worthy the attention that a welcomely-distracting baby denies!

The Math

Baseline Assessment 9/10

Bonuses : +1 for a sincere, original look at faith and mortality that proves the author as a true literary creator who should not be stuck in a genre ghetto but read by all

Penalties : -1 the ending making me want more and a little deflated; for if God can be killed, why can't a trilogy have a fourth part...?

Nerd Coefficient : 9/10 "very high quality/ standout in its category"

POSTED BY : English Scribbler, contributor since 2013 and bottle-slingin' barkeep/sheriff since 1868