Iron Angel, Alan Campbell

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Books, Criticism, Library, Literature, Reading, Reviews, Sanctuary
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Having read Scar Night some years ago and noticing it and it’s sequels online, I downloaded them.

I had memories of the city of Deepgate, suspended over an Abyss like the gaping maw of some vast creature (urban planning council had a lot to answer for!). I recalled a scarred feral angel whose monthly bloodletting was simultaneously vampiric and werewolf-like.

It was a bit of a shock then that Deepgate had collapsed into the abyss entirely and the scarred angel Carnival appears to have been dispatched within two pages of her reappearance. The main protagonists remain Rachel and Dill but they have now become separated at a metaphysical level: Dill, having sort of died and been reborn in Scar Night is dispatched to Hell once more in Iron Angel as another angel usurps his body; and his body and Rachel disappears into obscurity for the central section of the book.

In my view, this novel suffers from typical mid trilogy issues. The original novel did hint at a wider mythology but was firmly rooted; this novel expands on the mythology often using dialogue to expand develop and explain it to us readers. And in the process, character and empathy is lost. It is like Campbell zoomed out from a manageable citywide focus to a continental one in which we just lose sight of characters – even the ones he doesn’t kill off. Those that remain do so in an utterly passive state: they are placed into a scenario and wait there for another character to tell them what to do. It is a rather frustrating read!

On the plus side, there is a potent imagination at work here. The descriptions of a Hell (or the Maze in the book’s mythology) created out of our own souls was intriguing and the fluidity of form in Hell both in the malleability of the world around the characters and on the characters own forms (bodies is patently the wrong word but the dead tend to retain the form of their erstwhile bodies) was fascinating.

In conclusion, I think Campbell’s own games designing Grand Theft Auto background is visible here. He is a world builder, his backgrounds and settings have potency; but I do not think he is character driven and, consequently, nor is his novel and for me that is a huge let down.

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