Part of what draws me to going through fantasy’s archives are all these names who did great things but are now half-forgot. Take Tim Powers. He’s been an inspiration for games and TV shows (including Monkey Island and a Dr Who episode), had his work optioned by Disney, won numerous awards, and helped originate the term steampunk. Big stuff. The Anubis Gates, published in 1983, was no small part of that – it won the World Fantasy and Philip K. Dick. Yet do people remember them when talking about 80s fantasy? Frequently not, and after reading The Anubis Gates myself, I find that a sad thing.
This is a book of time travel and grand occult conspiracy, of Georgian London and 80s American attitudes, of romantic poets, conniving criminals, and a werewolf. It’s an ambitious conceit and mashing together of ideas, yet it all comes together logically and seamlessly while reading. I can’t quite say the story flows merrily from beginning to end; the opening chapters are somewhat slow to get off the ground, with a good dollop of exposition and lack of grand events. The plot takes a while to get going, and the second half is the stronger half. But I always had an urge to see how each step on the journey turned out, a sense of anticipation. It’s a very well put together novel in that sense.
The Anubis Gates is also well written and researched, and I always felt in place despite the many different places, times, and cultures it went through. It’s possible that if I was more closely connected to some of them I’d feel different, but I can of course only report on what I know. The prose is a little on the chewy side but none the worse for it, being evocative and full of character voice.
The characters are the one element I feel inclined to criticise a little. They were well drawn but somewhat one dimensional for the most part, focused on one task with less sense of conflicting thoughts. The protagonist, Brendan Doyle, does have more dimensions and internal conflicts, but it is very much his show. There are other fascinating characters, many of them; Horrabin the clown-crimelord-magician, Jackie the well educated beggar, Darrow the millionaire who helps spark this all. But we get the fascinating image and only fragments of the inner life This is only a small criticism; it is no worse than many other books in the gene, and better than most.
But in a fascinating, entertaining book, it is a small thing that perhaps holds The Anubis Gates back from masterpiece. Or perhaps it is one, and I didn’t quite click with it. Or perhaps it is one, and I will think so the more it marinades in my mind. Either way, I enjoyed The Anubis Gates immensely, and the more I think of it, the more I enjoy it.