Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Book of the month: Hide Me Among The Graves
Tim Powers is one of my favourite authors. Ever since I read The Anubis Gates, I've been fascinated by his work. Excellent examples, all of which come highly recommended, include The Drawing of the Dark, Declare, and Last Call. The latter is regarded as one of the inspiration's for Greg Stolze's role playing game, Unknown Armies.
Hide Me Among The Graves (2012) returns to nineteenth century London, which was part of the setting for Anubis Gates, but this time to the 1840s/50s rather than the 1810s. At its core, it is a novel about vampires, but not your conventional, Bram Stoker bloodsuckers. Powers' vampires are fascinated by their victims, to be sure, but there is an additional level of familial attachment there, a need for the blood of descendants, which is a nice twist.
While we're obviously talking about vampires here, and not ghosts - none of the characters even use the word vampire until halfway through the book - they are not the only game in town by any means. Ghosts also play an important, but lesser role in the plot.
Not only that, but right from the start, the reader becomes aware that there is an occult underground of sorts, very much aware of the existence of the undead, but also able to exercise its own forces and powers (e.g. to hide particular individuals so that they become invisible to vampires). Indeed, vampires seem to constitute just one aspect of this underground, about which many of London's street people seem to have some degree of knowledge. It feels more like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but only occasionally strays into the main plot, which seems somehow appropriate.
Powers is very good at bringing 19th century London to life. This is really the London of the mid-Victorian era. Much of the story revolves around real-life poets, and in particular the Rossetti family, including Christina Rossetti and her artist brother Gabriel (the book even proposes the identities of the two shadowy figures in the background of his famous painting Beata Beatrix).
However, there are other important characters at work, including an unlikely alliance between a vet and a prostitute. My favourite character is Edward Trelawney, a former pirate, veteran of the Greek wars, and friend to Byron and Shelley, who seems to have learned unarmed combat while in Asia. He sounds very much like a player character from a role playing game, smuggling a bomb onto a barge intended to bring a vampire to London, for example, and possessed of a copious amount of occult knowledge and concealed weapons.
I am tempted to transplant the vampires from this book into a Night's Dark Agents game. NDA is very good at letting the referee design his own beasties to suit his tastes, and it would be very easy to convert these undead, with their detailed and original background.
All in all, this is a worthy addition to the Powers corpus of literature and comes highly recommended.