Friday, March 12, 2010

Ex Libris: Tim Aker's Heart of Veridon

In my long experience of reading the fantastical, every now and then I find a unique book that reminds me why I read genre. China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station was one, introducing me to the world of steampunk and dark cities as well as showing me the limitless possibilities of imaginative fantasy.

Though Tim Aker’s Heart of Veridon doesn’t have the same heft and depth as Mieville’s book, it did bring me back to that time. In this book, Aker introduces us to the city of Veridon replete with leviathan airships, mad automaton angels, ancient subterranean engines, stomach-turning pseudo-science, and grotesque creatures that populate the neighbourhood.

The protagonist of Heart of Veridon is Jacob Burn, a half-cyborg former airship pilot and the disgraced scion of a dying Family that once ruled the city. Jacob is currently working for a gangster boss and though he’s fallen a good distance from what he once was, he can still live with himself. Unfortunately, his luck is bad as ever when he becomes the sole survivor of a second airship crash at the start of the book.

When Burn finds himself the owner of a mysterious object called the Cog after the crash, he attracts the attention of powers within the city—as well as a relentless hunter from outside the city. In the chaos of the chase, he will uncover the secrets of Veridon, from the otherworldly science that its inhabitants plunder to the conspiracy that intends to destroy the city that had brought him low.

Jacob’s only hope in surviving this mystery lie in his companions willing to help him, the technology that had turned him more than human, and his own grim resolve. More than this, it depends on whether he owes Veridon enough to save it from being obliterated from the face of earth.

Akers writes a hell of a page-turner of a story, whether shoot-outs with soldiers of the ruling Families in dark alleyways or white-knuckle chases with dark angels on the city’s rooftops. The action is well-paced with the requisite revelations constantly springing one more surprise on Jacob and his friends. The ending does come a bit abruptly after a long, dragged-out climactic battle but I’m inclined to forgive him for stepping on the brakes too hard. After what he put his protagonists through, I’m sure the exhausted Jacob would, too.

There is also not much depth in the book’s characters. In fact, the casting seems straight out of the golden age of pulp fiction, whether it’s the almost noir-ish Jacob to Emily, his handler/former-prostitute with a heart of gold. But its pulp antecedents are a good thing because despite the cliché, we can slip easily into the role of rooting for the protagonists and caring for their welfare. This is a good read, first and foremost.

Lastly, one would think the similarities between Heart of Veridon and Perdido Street Station are enough to make one think that Akers was riffing off from Mieville’s earlier work. However, that’s not giving Akers enough credit. I’ve made it my specialty in collecting stories that revolve around dark cities of the imagination and Veridon can take its place in an esoteric travel guide that has Mieville’s New Crobuzon, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, Scott Lynch’s Camorr, Jay Lake’s the City Imperishable and P.C. Hodgell’s the Holy City of Tai-Tastigon.

Though I wouldn’t want to personally visit these places, Veridon and these cities have become full-formed characters in their own right and have laid their individual marks on the map of the fantasy genre.

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