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The Domino Men [Hardcover]

Jonathan Barnes
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 2009
A young man discovers a manuscript and so begins a bizarre tale that brings together his grandfather, every conspiracy theory you've ever heard about the royal family and the true story about where the power of Number 10 really lies. Readers of The Somnambulist may well recoginise the characters kept within a chalk circle in a cellar beneath Downing Street. With a gallery of vividly grotesque characters, a gleefully satiric take on modern life and a playful and highly literate style, this is an amazingly readable literary fantasy. In his sequel to the crazed Victoriana of The Somnambulist Jonathan Barnes brings his invention, reality, grotesquerie and curiosities bang-up-to-date.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Review

“If you only read one black comedy with the brains and labyrinthine twists of Vedantic hair-splitting, make it this one....a gripping yarn.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“Unmatched life and verve.” (Washington Post Book World)

“A fantastic novel.” (Denver Rocky Mountain News)

“Marvelously imaginative.” (The Onion)

“Another remarkable outing, an infectious blend of wit, wonder, and the bizarre presented with remarkable style. This is literary fiction for the genre fiction set, or possibly the other way around...genuinely shocking and inventive.” (San Antonio Express-News)

“Kudos Barnes for another winner that is as funny as it is creepy, as thought provoking as it is entertaining.” (Colorado Springs Independent)

“Barnes’s second novel, a compelling supernatural thriller, shows that his impressive debut, The Somnambulist, was no fluke. …Thanks to Barnes’s evocative prose, readers will easily suspend disbelief. Those who enjoy the grafting of fantasy elements onto contemporary urban landscapes will be more than satisfied.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Nothing about Barnes’s follow-up to The Somnabulist is predictable....The grotesque fantasy world is a riot.” (mX Brisbane (Australia))

“Strange, outrageous, and wonderful … There is much that is strange, magical, and darkly hilarious about this book … An original and monumentally inventive piece of work by a writer still in his 20s. Barnes seems to leave himself room for a sequel—a consummation devoutly to be wished.” (Washington Post)

“Old school entertainment in the penny-dreadful tradition that almost succeeds in being as sublime as it is ridiculous.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. Jonathan Barnes combines a love of Victorian absurdity worthy of Edward Gorey with the surrealistic invention of a London-obsessed Garcia Marquez. This parody penny-dreadful is one of the classiest entertainments I’ve read in a long, long time.” (Christopher Bram, author of Exiles in America)

“Macabre wit and stylistic panache. Parliament should immediately pass a law requiring Barnes to write a sequel.” (James Morrow, author of The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher’s Apprentice)

“Magical, dark, beautifully odd–and utterly compelling–this is an astonishing debut.” (Michael Marshall, author of The Intruders)

“Sneaky, cheeky, and dark in the best possible way, Jonathan Barnes’ massively entertaining The Somnambulist manages to make the familiar daringly unfamiliar. I enjoyed the heck out of this novel.” (Jeff Vandermeer)

“The best fantasy novel of the year.” (Rocky Mountain News)

“A wonderfully original concoction of grotesque humour and sparkling prose.” (The Guardian)

“This promising debut subverts its 19th-century predecessors amusingly. Inventive and often witty. A cabinet crammed with curiosities.” (The Observer)

“A comic extravaganza, deftly plotted, fiendishly clever, and wonderfully funny. . . . One of the classiest entertainments I’ve read.” (Christopher Bram, author of Exiles in America)

About the Author

Jonathan Barnes is a remarkable new novelist, and a brilliant, quirky literary writer. He lives in Surbiton, and this is his second novel. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Faustian pact June 5 2009
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Jonathan Barnes made a pretty big stir with his debut novel, a steampunky mystery of deduction, horror and a threat to London.

But there's a far worse threat to England's capital in the sequel, "The Domino Men." Barnes switches over to the current day events (with a little strategic name-shuffling) in an increasingly creepy plot, full of monstrous interlopers, Faustian pacts, and an ordinary man caught in the middle of chaos.

When his grandfather has a stroke, Henry Lamb finds himself drafted into the Directorate in granddad's place -- a tiny, powerful group ruled by an ancient man in an amniotic tank.

They reveal that there has been a silent civil war in Great Britain since 1857, and that the key to winning that war (and saving London) is a mysterious woman named Estella. When his grandfather's house is firebombed (along with Estella's whereabouts), the Directorate takes drastic steps: they send Lamb to meet the Domino Men, a pair of gleefully psychotic twins with superhuman powers.

The war comes to a head as the Directorate's presence disrupts everything Henry knows and loves, and unleashes the Domino Men on London. But even that might not be enough to stop the horror that is coming -- and Henry Lamb may be made the unwilling sacrifice that can stop it.

And throughout the story, Lamb's frantic narrative is usurped by another presence, which tells the story of the spoiled, fusty Prince Arthur Windsor (read: Prince Charles, complete with a suitably glamorous "Laetitia"). A malevolent man named Streator tells him of the horrific pact Queen Victoria made with an otherworldly monstrosity named "Leviathan"... and Prince Arthur discovers just how terrifying it is.
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  65 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ashes, ashes, all fall down! Feb. 5 2009
By Susan Tunis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
London is engaged in a secret civil war. It's been raging for more than a century between the people of London and their rulers, the Windsor family. Okay, it's not really "the people," it's a shady group called "the Directorate" fighting on their behalf. And, yeah, the royals don't really rule anyone today, but you get my point. The Windsor's have sold the city's soul to an inhuman entity called Leviathan, and we are warned: He is coming.

Conscripted into this secret war is our protagonist, the aptly named Henry Lamb. Henry is a file clerk at the Civil Service Archive Unit. Shortly after his grandfather falls into a sudden coma, strange things begin to happen in Henry's life--such as his work transfer to the Directorate and his new (and very welcome) relationship with his landlady. Slowly at first, but eventually with greater and greater understanding, Henry comes to realize that everything he knows about the world and even about himself is now called into doubt. It is all much stranger and scarier than he previously believed.

Henry is writing his story for posterity from some point in the future. Right from the opening, Henry tells us that "time is now very short for me." About 100 pages in, suddenly the text becomes italicized, and a new narrator is telling a concurrent story. That is the story of the heir to the British throne, Prince Arthur Windsor. Arthur has his faults and weaknesses, and is being preyed upon by the mysterious Mr.Streater--a character with dialog so distinctive that I could literally hear his voice in my head. Arthur and Henry's stories fight for prominence through the rest of the novel, the struggle itself supposedly an indicator of Henry's eventual fate.

The Domino Men is rife with foreshadowing, but Jonathan Barnes has done a masterful job with the novel's construction. As I read, realizations would come to me--I am sure--exactly when Barnes intended for each epiphany to happen. Suddenly the light-bulb would snap on and I'd understand something important. And time and time again I'd flip back in the book to see all the exactingly placed clues. They were all there. Sometimes when I finally "got it" everything would be so right and so obvious, but all revelations came in their own time. Aside from the well-timed epiphanies, there were more than a few twists that managed to take me completely by surprise. By the end, I was extremely satisfied with all the major questions having been wrapped up, while still leaving a bit of room for a sequel--though I really don't believe that one is necessary.

On the subject of sequels, I had absolutely no clue The Domino Men was a sequel to The Somnambulist. I remembered being interested in reading The Somnambulist when it was first released, but I never got around to it. (I definitely will now.) The Domino Men was so deftly plotted however, that if I missed anything important by not reading the first book (set more than a century prior), it's not at all obvious to me.

The book is well-written, in a distinctly British style. The vocabulary alone is a joy to read, and though some turn their noses down at genre fiction, the use of language here is quite wonderful. Many times I paused to linger over a turn of phrase or sentence. There is a lot of humor that buoys the story as well. My biggest criticism, and the reason for the loss of one star, is that I believe that the novel could have been shorter. It dragged a bit in the middle and through the end. I'd find myself very caught up in what certainly felt like a dénouement, and I'd find myself thinking, "There's another 150 pages? No, not possible!" The book was never boring, but I do think it could have been slightly condensed.

I'm extremely grateful to have discovered this young author at this time. I am very much looking forward to now reading the first part of this tale, and will likewise be very interested in seeing where Mr. Barnes goes next. This novel is highly recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman and other writers of contemporary fantasy.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Continuations of Pandaemonic London June 2 2009
By C. S. Ivanyi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Barnes's first effort, The Somnambulist, was a great beginning, albeit with an ending as dissatisfying as the aftertaste of a bad diet cola. His newest returns the reader once again to London, though a modern London, and once again, nasty things are afoot (and underfoot). Henry Lamb, the very appropriately named main character, is a mild mannered filing clerk about to take the trip of his life.

Barnes populates his London with all manner of human (and demi-human) oddities, and The Domino Men is every bit as filled with chaotic beings who seem just at the threshold of losing control, just past that threshold, or so far gone we have no idea what doorways they have traversed (nor would we want to). His writing is like a smooth bit of drinking chocolate or an after dinner cognac: It slips right down and warms the spirit, but one suspects that an overdose might leave a bad result.

The Domino Men, Hawker and Boon, Boon and Hawker, those frightful, cartoonishly demonic daguerreotypes of Angus from AC/DC, replete with school uniforms and reeking of a hell only Clive Barker might want to visit, form a small centerpiece de resistance around which whirls the crisis the throes of which London has supposedly been in since Victoria's time: The war between "The Directorate" and the House of Windsor. No good can come of the Domino Men, and it certainly doesn't.

As in his first book, Barnes masterfully creates characters whose humanity is as touching for its frailties and failings as it is wrung out by their heroic and anti-heroic abilities. Beautifully styled prose, intricate and complex dialogue with plenty of British sardonic wit and humor, and a genuinely compelling pathos, moves the narrative forward. As we walk, drugged as it were by Barnes's verbal talents, we encounter the problem of the unreliable narrator, and we must at times wrench our sentiments free of their inclinations to consider just what the author is doing to us here.

Unlike The Somnambulist, The Domino Men has a satisfying (euphemistically so) ending. The book, hard to categorize but perhaps best called Steampunk Conspiracy Opera, gets into your blood, grabs hold of your nerves and keeps you turning the pages even when it would be nicer not to (oh, how the characters suffer, and in so many ways).

In the end, satisfied, I found it a relief to finish this beast of a book. It is a verbal trompe l'oeil, because as you read it, you become lost in it, and I found its heavy character and spirit toll weighed down my emotional perspective even as its brilliance buoyed up my imagination. A bit like something one might find in the library of Mephistopheles: Goes down easy, but grabs hold once its in.

Ware the ampersand!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight April 10 2009
By Len Schiff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In an article about the Somnambulist, author Barnes declared that book to be a tribute to things he loved: Ackroyd's London histories, Doctor Who, Victorian genre fiction and Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. If the same is true of The Domino Men, we can add Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday and Grant Morrison's seminal conspiracy series The Invisibles to the list-- the book reads as a delicious mash-up of all the above and more.

Nevertheless, the book stands wonderfully on its own, and will no-doubt go on to influence other authors based on its own wonky merits. Barnes's London is a vibrant, seething presence, and it's peopled with an array of characters both familiar and enjoyably offbeat. There are multiple narrators (sort of), Lurking Horrors, Secret Histories and Terrible Dooms. All-told, a delirious and compelling read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better Than "The Somnambulist"! Feb. 5 2009
By Brian Baker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
It's not often that a sequel surpasses the original work from which it derives, but in the case of "The Domino Men" that's definitely the case.

At the end of "Somnambulist", London was in ruins at the end of Queen Victoria's reign. This book picks up the story in present-day London, as the opposing forces of the epic struggle have used the intervening decades to restore their powers, so badly depleted in the previous battle.

This time, a milquetoast file clerk is the fulcrum of the Directorate's strategy, as well as bringing into play those two anarchic demons - Hawkins and Boon (the Domino Men) - who sowed so much destruction at the end of the last book.

Told in modern dialect (as opposed to the Victorian lingo of the previous work), all the verve, panache, and devilishly clever twists of the original continue in this sequel. Rich characterizations (the Domino Men are an absolute hoot!), tight plotting, and vivid scenery will keep you hooked from first page to last.

In many ways this book reminds me of Swift's "Gulliver's Travels": using dark satire to lampoon the current socio-political climate.

If you liked "The Somnambulist", you'll love "The Domino Men".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fantasy or Satire? A totally unsettling mix. June 23 2012
By E. A. Lovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is one of the most intensely irritating novels I've ever read completely through. I finished it, even while gritting my teeth because the author is inventive, witty, and adept at getting his readers to believe in the most astonishing scenarios, e.g. Queen Victoria sacrificing London's future inhabitants in order to keep her descendents on the throne. It irritated me because the author treats his main characters with a casual cruelty, the book ends smugly rather than cathartically, and foreshadowing is way overused--an annoying literary technique even in small doses.

Whether or not you will enjoy this fantasy depends on why you read this genre in the first place. This is a list of items that I found disappointing:

**************SPOILER ALERT*************************

* The hero, Henry Lamb is a likeable but bumbling London file clerk. He loves his grandfather, is loyal to his unlovable mother, and is hopelessly enamoured of his young, pretty landlady. He is dumped into the secret war between the House of Windsor and the Directorate (supposedly the defenders of London) and is soon way over his head in mayhem and sinister childhood reminiscences. I was cheering for him both in his love life and in his fight against the evil, remorseless supermen that dominate both sides of the war. But through the latter part of the book, the author is busy sneering at Henry, using the third-person omniscient voice. Then he crucifies Henry at the end of the book. I ended up with the feeling that the author was laughing at his readers--setting us up to take a fall along with the hapless, sacrificial Lamb.

* Speaking of unlovable mothers, Queen Elizabeth II and her relationship with the heir-apparent is depicted with absolute savagery. Only one woman comes off with dignity in this book, and she suffers a ghastly death.

* This book couldn't decide whether it was a fantasy or a Swiftian satire on the swinish human condition. It was an unsettling mixture.

If you enjoyed "Gulliver's Travels," are anti-Royalist, and sneer at happy endings as the stuff of mass market, Robert-Jordan-type fantasies, you might actually like "The Domino Men." I was force-fed Swift and hated every minute of it, am a closet-Royalist, and demand some sort of catharsis at the end of my fantasies, so this book was not for me.
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