Tim Akers' The Heart of Veridon ( Solaris 2009) is a mix of fantasy, noir, science fiction, and punk; a novel situated in a strange and unique world, told in the first person, by a cog-works creature named Jacob Burn, whose claim to fame initially is that he has crashed in not one but two zepliners and lived to tell the tale. Burn, an ex-pilot, a graduate of the Academy, works as an enforcer for a shady crime syndicate and is personally managed by a beautiful hooker named Emily, who may or not be a double agent. The novel begins en medias res; a zepliner is in flames and falls into the Reine, a river of some importance, inhabited by unique creatures, the Fehn. The Fehn, although not fully described, are important to the plot, because they, along with the anansi, are indigenous to the world and provide the novel with some of its internal weirdness, especially when juxtaposed against the humans, who seem to be relatively newcomers to the world.
These comparisons and conclusions are not clear because we learn of things through conversation. Uncertainty, however, is not detrimental to the novel's plot or success; instead, I would argue it is one of the novel's strengths: Akers builds his universe slowly, parceling out details of his weird world incrementally, along with the development of the plot. His stylistic choice works because it is consistent with its noir antecedents. The plot takes its energy and impetus from the novels of Hammett and Chandler and first person point-of-view. The result is that these choices create both tension and expectation. Imagine, a half-man, half machine Marlowe in a weird, fantastic world conducting one of his convoluted investigations. And, consistent with noir, further imagine our (somewhat unreliable) narrator wise-cracking and skylarking his way through a brutal and dangerous plot that involves a conflict between two religions and a marauding cogs-work angel. It is this religious struggle that provides the plot's internal complexity and intimates a rich, created world, not yet fully disclosed and the existence of some more serious themes that are not immediately apparent.
First, like Matthew Hughes's The Damned Busters(Angry Robot Books 2011) that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, The Heart of Veridon foregrounds religion. In Akers' novel, two religions, diametrically opposed to each other, vie for control of the city. Within the conflict, technology plays a major role, transforming men into machines. Second, Jacob Burn is an outcast from his class and his family; a member of the aristocracy who works with the criminal element of the city. A father/son conflict is obvious, which adds a further complexity to the novel. Third, there is a game-like quality to the novel. Like a game, part of the pleasure of the plot arises from the ability to explore, to discover new and unique wonders. One of the major plot devices is the discovery of a map, which illuminates another sector of the unknown world and promises further discoveries, new creatures, and more weirdness. Fourth, like most new weird, the city, its structure and its politics function as theme. Veridon is not only socially nuanced and class-burdened, it is virtually multi-layered. Throughout the story we travel from the sewers to the Tower, meeting different types of citizens and creatures. The polis theme complements the game-theme and situates the novel squarely within the sub-genre of new weird.
Heart of Veridon is a controlled work: consistent in theme, voice, and tone. Akers does not overreach himself; he holds back, saving more surprises for further books. Nevertheless, this novel stands on its own. All and all it is a very entertaining read.