The Domino Men Hardcover – Feb 1 2009
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“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 sequela 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 oddand utterly compellingthis 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)
From the Back Cover
In an earlier century, Queen Victoria made a Faustian bargain, signing London and all its souls away to a nefarious, inhuman entity. Now, generations later, the bill has finally come due. . . .
Jonathan Barnes caused a considerable splash in the literary pool when he dove in with his head-spinning debut, The Somnambulist, a novel of the truly odd and exceptional that the Washington Post called "strange, magical, and darkly hilarious . . . an original and monumental piece of work" and Denver's Rocky Mountain News dubbed "the best fantasy novel of the year." In his second endeavor, the acclaimed author returns us to a strikingly similar world—albeit at a different time—ushering fortunate readers into his latest breathtaking cabinet of curiosities.
Henry Lamb, an amiable and anonymous file clerk, pushes paper in the Storage and Record Retrieval section of the Civil Service Archive Unit. His life has always been quiet and unremarkable—until the day he learns that he's expected to assume the covert responsibilities of his universally despised grandfather, now lying comatose in the hospital.
Summoned to the gargantuan Ferris wheel known as the London Eye, Henry receives his orders from Dedlock, a gilled and wrinkled old gentleman eternally floating in a pool of amniotic fluid. London, it seems, is at war, resisting an apocalyptic fate foisted upon it by a long-dead queen. A shadowy organisation known (to very few) as the Directorate wishes to recruit Henry to the cause. All he has to do is find "the girl" and save the world from the monster Leviathan, who can already taste the succulent metropolis that will soon be his to devour. Simple enough.
But there are formidable enemies lining up to oppose Henry, all gathering in and around the royal family. His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Arthur Aelfric Vortigern Windsor—the sniveling, overbored, underappreciated sole heir to the British throne—has been shaken from his resentful malaise by grisly, seductive visions of unrestrained power . . . and by an extremely potent narcotic called ampersand. And an unspeakable evil lurks in the cellar of 10 Downing Street: the twin, serial-slaying schoolboy nightmares, the Domino Men—so-called for their hideous desire and terrifying ability to topple every towering edifice in the city, one after the other . . . just for a giggle.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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!
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".
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.
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:
* 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.