A couple of evenings ago I finished reading the most amazing book -- Dream London by Tony Ballantyne. This is one of those rare books that really insinuates itself deep into your brain. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I think it's fair to say that I read more science fiction and science fantasy books than the average person, and I've dipped my toes into more sub-genres than I care to remember, but I don’t think I've ever read a book quite like this one.
Actually, it's very difficult to say just what this book is about without giving the game away. The blurb on the back of the book does a really good job of capturing things in a nutshell without actually telling you what's going on. This blurb reads as follows:
In Dream London the city changes a little every night and the people change a little every day. Captain Jim Wedderburn has looks, style and courage by the bucketful. He’s adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. He’s the man to find out who has twisted London into this strange new world, and he knows it. But the towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away and the streets form themselves into strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, new criminals emerging in the East End and a path spiraling down to another world. Everyone is changing, no one is who they seem to be, and Captain Jim Wedderburn is beginning to understand that he’s not the man he thought he was...
Just about everything in the above description is an understatement. In a way I'm reminded of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which counts as one of my favorite books of all time, except that Dream London and Neverwhere have nothing whatsoever in common with each other.
Perhaps the best way to summarize Dream London this is that something -- we don’t know what -- has managed to gain a toe-hold in our reality. This thing, whatever it is, is focused in the center of the City of London and is gradually distorting our reality. The modern London we know is changing day by day -- the buildings are growing, shrinking, mutating, and moving around, as are the streets, rivers, railways, and so forth. Similarly, the people are changing in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Overall, the city and its population seem to be evolving into a sort of surreal Victorian-esque versions of themselves, but to what end?
When it comes to the rich (dare one say sumptuous?) descriptions of London, I'm reminded of books like A Madness of Angels and Stray Souls by Kate Griffin (both of which I highly recommend). With regard to the city and people being slowly transmogrified, I'm prompted to recall the 1998 neo-noir science fiction movie masterpiece Dark City.
Towards the end of Dream London we start to get glimpses of other places: Worlds? Realities? Who knows? Everything is really rather disturbing, but -- in a strange way -- you sort of want to be there to see it all for yourself. The thought of exploring these other places is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
The characters in Dream London are extremely well observed. The story is told through the eyes of Captain Jim Wedderburn, who initially regards himself as being a sort of gentleman adventurer. As the tale progresses, we start to see him in a different light. Eventually we -- and he -- understand him for the low-life he is, at which point he redeems himself and becomes the true hero we all want him to be (well, at least he tries). All of the characters are interesting; some of them are very scary indeed. All I can say is that if I am ever introduced to a little girl called Honey Peppers with a slight lisp and a pink dress, I'm going to run for my life.
I've never heard of Tony Ballantyne before, but Dream London was so good that I've just added two more of his books -- Twisted Metal and Blood and Iron -- to my Amazon wish list. In the meantime, I desperately want somebody else to read Dream London in order for me to have someone with whom I can discuss the concepts it presents, so don't delay, order it today!
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting