I have been talking about my "cunning plan" for some time now to read and review all of Angry Robot Books' releases. The number is nearing fifty and I have reviewed only eleven. As you can see I am woefully in arrears, although I have purchased every book and with some titles I have two editions: big and little. I don't know what that means really except those I have ordered from England are big, i.e., trade paperback, verses, little, mass market. In regard to Dan Abnett's first novel for Angry Robot Books I have two copies: trade paperback, big, and mass market, little. I chose to read the mass market edition so I could stick it in my suit pocket and carry it around, bend it back and break its spine. That's the way I like to read genre fiction--aggressively. With Triumff my usual methodology, however, was foiled (frustrated), because it is such a rich book, full of puns and literary allusions, characters and details that I had to slow down, read a bit slower, for after all I'm sitting here on the prairie, on the edge of the comancheria, north of the Rio Bravo, where the English language, although rich, is different from that of Elizabethan England and where our vocabulary is mixed with both English and Spanish. Consequently, it took me a while to enter the book, but once I did I realized how nuanced it was. Although I know it is played for laughs, there is a full-blooded mimetic world, an alternate or parallel universe, here, a geography that could be expanded upon, a vast container that could house other stories and other novels. And this created world, along with its rounded characters, is what makes the book more than just a linguistic romp. In this regard, Triumff''s alternate world is as rich and satisfying as Lavie Tidhar's in his The Bookman or Colin Harvey's created planet in Winter Song or, if we are being truthful, most of the Angry Robot titles. Created worlds, mixed genres, and good writing seems to be the common denominator.
In Triumff, the year is 2010; however, it is not our 2010. It is an alternate history in which Queen Elizabeth XXX sits upon the throne and rather than science, alchemy and superstition run the world. To understand the energy and verve of the novel, imagine then an episode of the Tudors, written by Richard Curtis, starring Rowan Atkinson as our narrator, William Beaver, with a young Kevin Kline (as in A Fish Called Wanda), playing Sir Rupert Triumff. Also imagine a teeming London, as dark and dank as any Dickens or Peter Ackroyd novel and then throw in magic and wizardry reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. Stir up the mix and add every clown or buffoon from a Shakespearean comedy or any ork from a Warhammer novel and you will begin to understand the tone and tenor of the work.
This is the invented world in which the action occurs but the book is more than an invented world or a comic bit. There is a plot here and characters. Triumff is back from the Beach, Australia, with his Ishmael-like companion--Uptil. The big secret, which Triumff is concealing, is that Australia is modern and technological, a modern paradise, compared to the teeming squalor of Europe. On one hand he is trying to conceal his discovery and the other, he is involved in trying to protect the queen from a dangerous conspiracy created by masters of mayhem and Goetia. To solve the mystery and defeat the sorcerers Triumff goes underground, masquerading as a French lutenist, as the Queen prepares for the anniversary of her coronation. In the investigation a panoply of Keystone-like police, agents, soldiers and mages appear from all over Europe.
For Abnett fans, the novel is a departure; but, in reality, I think we are seeing an almost full measure of the man. Like most of his novels, this one contains full-bodied characters, rich language, and panoply of arms, but it also demonstrates or, perhaps better, shares his humor, his verbal intensity and range, along with his heart. Triumff, I think is Abnett's labor of love. It is what he wrote when left to his own devices.