I have been under a curse, recently. Locked away in my fortress in the eastern wilds, I am being tormented and attacked by a terrible and fierce devil. Every time I turn around, she’s stabbing at me, biting at my feet, howling at the sky and threatening to tear me apart. And the only way I can get her to calm herself, even a little, is to pick up my magical, arcane tools of the trade and plunge ahead in the eldritch ritual known to all, infernal and celestial, as The Manuscript Rewrite. It is not a ritual for the tender or the sensitive, but my Muse has decided that she’s done playing nice, and she’s going to get me to finish this, no matter what.
In between bouts of screaming and howling and also, rewriting, I have a stack of books that sometimes threatens to chase me around my room. If information could reach critical mass, it would very well do just that. The latest book to slide off the top and into my head was a book that was sent to Way Too Fantasy World Headquarters by the publisher, and after getting my manuscript to sit quietly in the desk for a day or three, I picked it up, hoping for a quiet fantasy that promised a return to Greek Myth. Alas, this book was definitely not quiet and thank the gods for that.
The Automation: Vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero Series (The Circo del Herrero Series/The Blacksmith’s Circus), is a heady romp in a surreal world that is equal parts New Weird, New Myth, and mystery. Some people are calling it ‘mythpunk,’ but I think that term doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s clear from the beginning, where we find out that the Editor and the Narrator are both characters in the book, and like to argue with each other in footnotes, that this is not a normal fantasy in any accepted sense of the word. Even to call it a modern look at Greek and Roman Mythology implies a comparison to, say, Percy Jackson or Clash of the Titans. As much as I like those stories, however, they are modern retellings of ancient stories. The Automation takes a concept from an old myth and drags it, kicking and screaming, into our world, and rewrites our world around it.
To fully describe the story would be to spoil the strange sense that one is exploring a new part of the country, or pulling up a discarded metal plate in the woods and seeing a completely unknown species of life underneath. But I can at least tell you this: The main character, Odys, is accosted by a man who gives him a coin and then blows his own head off in order to separate himself from his soul-infused Automata. After that, the book begins to get a little strange. The narrator and editor do a marvelous job of creating tension and keeping the reader guessing. Every mystery solved simply brings up two more questions. And the further one goes in the book, the more one feels that this version of reality should be the correct one. Like the books of Philip K Dick, the author has created a world that is bizarre on the surface yet hauntingly familiar at the core.
I recommend this book. I hesitate to give it five stars, since there are a few pacing problems in the center, and it’s not quite the book that would cause me to accost friends and family alike and insist they read it. However, if you like surreal modern fantasy with a good dose of the old woven into the new, you should pick this up. And if my current travails in the lost wilds of Cutting, Editing, and Revising leave me with a little sanity, I plan on reading and reporting on the sequels as well. I can only imagine how much stranger, and and yet sensible, they will make this story.
Stars: Four, leaning toward four-and-a-half. Also, one of the characters in this book is one of the most eminently punchable people I have run into. I might have slapped my Kindle screen a few times, hoping he would somehow feel it.
WTF?: Yes. Not on a scale of, say The Library at Mount Char, but the characters are perhaps more relatable and enjoyable.