Book Review: Scar Night (The Deepgate Codex, Book 1)

July 16, 2008 at 1:01 am Leave a comment

Alan Campbell’s debut novel is a gritty, blood-soaked fantasy set in a gothic world where angels live among humans, gods plot their revenge, and a city hovers, literally, on the edge of destruction.  Before going into the book itself, I think it’s necessary to go into the well-crafted mythology that is the basis for the story.

Thousands of years ago (possibly longer?), the ruler of Heaven, Ayen, casts out her son Ulcis, the God of Chains, and several of his bretheren.  Ulcis falls to Earth, leaving a massive hole in the ground, the bottom of which is where he now supposedly takes up residence.  He then sends up his Herald, the angel Callis, to preach his word to the humans.  Ulcis needs them to supply souls to restore the ranks of his army; he will then strike back at his mother and retake Heaven, granting humans admission as well.  In order to do this, Ulcis instructs Callis to create a temple where the humans can worship him and send their sacrifices.  The location for this temple: right above the seemingly bottomless pit.  Callis, and the other 99 angels that followed Ulcis, pass the word along to the humans, who not only construct the Temple, but an entire city called Deepgate.

The story follows a few characters, one of the the angel Dill, last of the Battle Archons, the warrior angels that protected Deepgate from her enemies, most notably the Heshette.  The Heshette are desert-dwellers who worship the Goddess Ayen, and are sworn enemies of Deepgate.  Dill is not like his ancestors, he doesn’t know how to fight, fly, or do anything that would be deemed ‘useful’; he’s basically a figurehead for the Church, brought out every once in a while to show the people of Deepgate that their religion is real.  He becomes paired with a young assassin, Rachel Hael, who works for the Spine, the Church’s secretive military wing.  She is basically a glorified babysitter, having not passed all the required tests of the Spine, but still retaining many of their deadly skills.

There’s also another angel, Carnival, who hunts her human prey once a month on a night called Scar Night.  Working for the Church are Presbyter Sypes, the head of the Church, and Adjunct Fogwill, Sypes’ assistant.  There’s also Devon, the Church’s chief Poisoner, and a man named Mr. Nettle, who mourns after the death of his daughter.

Scar Night is rich with history and characters, like any novel, fantasy or otherwise, should be.  Unfortunately, Campbell seems to get so caught up in his characters that he sometimes forgets to move the plot forward.  There are more characters that play major roles in the story, but that’s part of the problem.  I feel like this book is tackling something so broad and epic in scope, that it tries to introduce is to so much, then rush the plot toward the end.  That isn’t to say it’s a bad book; I quite like it and I feel that it’s a great introduction to what could be an incredible series.

The novel is divided into three parts, and as the chapters progress, the intensity slowly builds…up until the last quarter of the book.  All of a sudden, there’s an explosion of action, like a payoff with a buildup that was still building.  A good chunk of the action is reserved for the final part, which is split between two different locations, but I feel that there wasn’t enough action going on in the previous two parts.  I was honestly bored through most of the first part, although the second opens with a very inventive fight inside a giant ball that, not only is it rolling on top of buildings, but is also on fire.  For those that have seen Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, it’s like the swordfight in the giant wheel, only with a much bigger wheel, and it being lit on fire.

The style in which the book is written is like a mix of old gothic-sounding English mixed with the occasional modern-day slang.  It’s very descriptive, and at times very beautiful.  The city of Deepgate itself is wonderfully detailed.  It’s a city suspended by chains, built on chains, and wrapped in chains.  By some of the description in the book, you could almost smell the rust and corrosion in the air as the city is slowly decaying.  I keep picturing a twisted, macabre version of an industrial 19th-Century England.  Alan Campbell has fully realized this world on paper, and it shows here.

By the time I finished the book, I felt ready for more.  This obviously is the first part of a series (it’s part of the Deepgate Codex), and it feels written as one.  Campbell does a fine job of setting up the characters, even if the plot takes a while to go anywhere.  The sequel, Iron Angel, was released earlier this year, and it’s sitting on my bookshelf right now; I can’t wait to start it.  Despite its flaws, Scar Night is a novel fantasy fans shouldn’t pass up; it’s vivid in the descriptions, rich with characters, and thick with atmosphere.

7.5/10

(image from Amazon.com)

For those really interested in the world of the Deepgate Codex, Alan Campbell has written a novella that acts as the prequel to Scar Night, called Lye Street.  The cheapest I’ve seen it is on Amazon, but the rare limited editions are available on eBay for a considerably higher price.

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