The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers

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I couldn’t find the cover of the edition I read on the internet, except for this unsatisfying small image, so I’m using this one instead. If anyone’s interested, my edition was published in 1986 by Triad Grafton. My cover has two men who are completely identical, except that one wears a tie and the other a cravat, running from a giant skeletal man in the sky, left hand outstretched, who has clearly survived a trepanning. In the right background totters a stilted clown, behind whom you can see the city of London and the dog-headed god Anubis. The left side of the lower background has three dark trees standing in an drab field. The cover artist is Richard Clifton-Dey. I apologise if this description is gratuitously comprehensive, but I really liked this cover and think that my readers deserve  to experience it in some form.

I’ve never pitied a villain like I pitied Dr. Romany from Tim Power’s The Anubis Gates. The poor guy, who is really more of a magical clone, sees all of his grand plans unraveled by his incompetent goons and a time-traveling historian who just got lucky, before being shunted back a century and forced to live through his failures twice. His motive is relatively sympathetic – his group wants to restore Egypt to its former glory and prevent the country from ever being dominated by Europeans. By the end, I didn’t want Dr. Romany to be killed or humiliated any more than he’d already been, I thought the ideal ending for him would be to spend the rest of his life in some sort of Home For Traumatised Villains That We Secretly Respect.

The Anubis Gates is about Brendan Doyle, a historian who taken back in time to hear Samuel Taylor Coleridge give a lecture and ends up trapped in a Dickensian London. (I’ve actually got a relative named Brendan, and it struck me that this was the first time I’d encountered a novel protagonist with the same name.) Also in the mix are the body-stealing lycanthrope Dog-Face Joe, a young widow crossdressing as a beggar boy, and the stilt-walking clown Horrabin whose terrifying voice is described by Powers as like that of Mickey Mouse’s. It’s a testament to Powers’  plotting ability that all of these crazy characters, as well as a few time travel paradoxes and bits of magical esoterica, are woven into a satisfying plot that ultimately makes a surprising amount of sense.

As I read the book, I decided to myself that it’d make brilliant television. The story is too complicated for a movie, but I figure that the BBC would have all the required sets and costumes lying around in some warehouse somewhere from all those period dramas they keep on making. Wikipedia tells me that The Anubis Gates is a beloved novel, winner of several prestigious awards, so there would be an audience for it. I’d pitch it to the television people as Outlander meets The X-Files, except for that close questioning would reveal that I haven’t seen the second show and would therefore be exposed as someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

The only other thing I’ve read from Powers is The Drawing the Dark, something about a Merlin and a grail quest in Austria. The book didn’t connect with me, perhaps because I was only around twelve at the time. I remember that one character painted over an image of the archangel Michael until it was darker than the night itself, and alcohol was important as well. I’m informed that his novel On Stranger Tides inspired both the Tales of Monkey Island games and the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Tim Powers is clearly a name I need to remember.

Anyone interested in science fiction, horror or even fantasy will find something to love in this novel. Historical readers might also like the setting, although I don’t know what they’d make of all the time travel and occultism. The author I have an easiest time comparing Powers to is the underrated Robin Jarvis, both writing novels involving contemporary protagonists being sucked into England’s past, a steady escalation of the bizarre and a love of the monstrous. (Powers fans should try out Jarvis’ Tales of the Wyrd Museam series or the Dancing Jax trilogy.) Readers who are squeamish should definitely avoid this one.

 

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