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Orphan spends his days working in a bookshop and his nights with his girlfriend Lucy. The kingdom, ruled by a family of giant sentient lizards, is seething with unrest and rumors that the Bookman has returned. When Orphan and Lucy unintentionally get caught up in dire events, Orphan must go on a quest for the Bookman.
The journey will take him across the ocean and into the depths of London itself. Well-known figures such as Captain Nemo and Jules Verne will play a part in Orphan’s fate. And always in the background are the Bookman and his nemesis, the Binder, moving humanity around like chess pieces. But towards what end?
I initially picked up this novel after reading an excerpt that impressed me with the author’s worldbuilding skills. And for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. Tidhar has created a spastically unique universe, with sentient lizards, robots wishing for emancipation, widespread literature, and enough revolutionary spirit to fuel an army.
The backstory of the lizard kings and queens is told in the form of a play, which Orphan and Lucy watch at the novel’s beginning. This sets the tone for the rest of the book and introduces readers to the type of world that they’re entering. There are some parallels to our own world, but in many ways, it’s very different from what we know. I found the differences to be fascinating, though, and I went through the novel eagerly wondering what would be around the next corner. I do think that it lagged on occasion, but Orphan’s journey takes him to so many places that it’s hard to keep the action flowing constantly. It never lagged enough to frustrate me, though.
With the inclusion of such characters as Captain Nemo and others, I would describe this world as a dark reflection of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. The Bookman has less of the sly humor of Fforde’s stories and more of a dark and twisted sensibility. However, it’s by no means brooding or depressing—merely skewed away from what you might expect.
This is not a novel that’s easy to explain or critique. There’s so much crammed between its pages—characters out of novels, robots, giant lizards, plot twists, revelations—that any review runs the risk of either spoiling something for readers or being too vague.One thing I can say is that I sincerely recommend that you pick up this novel and give it a chance. It may not be to your taste, but it’s something that any fan of literature should experience.
Overall, I was satisfied with The Bookman. It contains strong worldbuilding, some interesting characters, and a story with enough twists and turns to keep readers turning pages. I thoroughly enjoyed Tidhar’s weird and wonderful fantasy vision of our world.