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Scar Night Mass Market Paperback – Nov 27 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Campbell sets his stunning debut fantasy in Deepgate, a town wreathed in chains that keep it hanging suspended over a bottomless abyss, peopled by worshippers of Lord Ulcis, the god of chains, and tormented by a mad angel named Carnival. The author, who was a video game designer, renders Deepgate beautifully. It's a complex city of creaking metal links, stone and shadow, inhabited by priests, assassins and the boy-angel Dill, who will lead a journey into the abyss in a desperate attempt to save the city. Campbell has Neil Gaiman's gift for lushly dark stories and compelling antiheroes, and effortlessly channels the Victorian atmospherics of writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake as well. This imaginative first novel will have plenty of readers anxiously awaiting his follow-up. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A vast network of ponderous chains suspends Deepgate over a dark chasm. The church of Ulcis dominates the skyline and the citizens' lives. When a Deepgate denizen dies, the body is cast, with appropriate rites, into the chasm. According to the church, Ulcis lies in the abyss. When he has enough of the sanctified dead to support him, he and they will rise and overthrow Ulcis' mother, Ayen, who bars men from the joys of Paradise. In the meantime, Deepgate battles intermittently with the nomadic heathens of the surrounding deserts, who worship Ayen. Deepgate is home to two angels, the 16-year-old male last descendent of one of Ulcis' companions, and the mad female Carnival, who, once a moon, hunts down and drains someone's blood and soul to remain alive. Almost torturously crafted in characterization, plot, and setting,Campbell's debutmay appeal most to those who like novels in the manner of Dickens, whose highly evocative, occasionally overripe, memorable style Campbell's recalls. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Scar Night, is a first novel written by Alan Campbell and also the first volume in the Deepgate Codex and it is a terrific start to what promises to become a thrilling saga. However, you can tell that the author has been heavily influenced by other fantasy classics, such as Gormenghast. Like Gormenghast, if you don't stick with it, Scar Night can be a little bit hard to get into. At the beginning of the book, so many characters are introduced and their role in the city is described in such detail that some readers may get a bit confused or frustrated.Read more ›
Scar Night takes place in a very dark world that's totally consumed by religion. This world is centered on the city of Deepgate. Deepgate is an entire city suspended by chains over top of an abyss, below which the god Ulcis supposedly dwells. For the last 3000 years, every 'Scar Night' a rogue female Angel has killed a citizen, draining it of blood and thereby spoiling the soul's entrance to Ulcis' realm. I'd compare the setting of Scar Night most to the Planescape series of books - steampunk technology and magic presented in a very dark fashion.
Campbell starts this series off with an incredible pace. Scar Night grips you right from the beginning - the action never stops. This is extremely entertaining, but at times seems to come at a slight cost of lesser character development. Still, these characters are just being introduced in Scar Night so later books flesh things out more. And trust me, you will not be able to stop yourself reading the other books once you finish Scar Night.
Finally, the end of Scar Night is one of the best I've ever read. It answers many large questions, not just about the plot but about the nature of life itself in the Deepgate world. But even better than that, it opens up the world in a way that anticipates the next book in the best way possible. In short, the ending is both satisfying and tantalizing.
I cannot emphasize enough that if you have any interest in Dark Fantasy at all you should not hesitate, pick up Scar Night immediately!
A well-written and interesting cast (in particular, the enigmatic murderous angel Carnival) keep the story grounded as a human drama amidst all the spectacle, no matter how bizarrely some of the characters behave. The world-building concepts are generally convincing and introduced with great care.
There are minors flaws and distractingly nonsensical moments scattered here and there, but nothing that would prevent me from awarding it a full five stars. A dark and very enjoyable fantasy.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Alan Campbell may soon tire of comparisons to Peake and Mieville, but that doesn't mean they are not deserved. Campbell weighs in to the fantastic, giving us the dreary and spectacular city of Deepgate in his debut novel, SCAR NIGHT. This endeavor, upon first inspection, could have been buried by its premise, but instead Campbell deftly weaves a startling and mysterious story through the dark streets of an equally mysterious city and leaves readers groaning for the sequel.
Deepgate is like no other city you've visited. It hangs suspended over a black abyss that is supposedly the realm of Ulcis, a God known as the Hoarder of Souls. Great chains hold the city in place...though what they're connected to none can rightfully say. Airships bring business and travelers to and fro, though why anyone would come here is another story. Deepgate is a wound, a dilapidated and sinister city where every road is an alley and every walk out is a potential last trip.
Then there is Scar Night. The foolish fail to stay hidden behind locked doors, for on this night, as she has for thousands and thousands of years, the angel Carnival comes to Deepgate to feed.
While this all may seem enough for a novel, there is oh so much more. Enter Dill, the last archon and now just old enough to begin his duties. Rachel, an assassin who is part of a force trying to hunt down Carnival, takes Dill under her charge. She is hard, cold and demanding. And then there is Devon, the Poisoner, who has his own devious plot to concoct a potion of immortality, which requires the gathering of souls.
Dill may seem to be the eternal youthful hero, but he is really far more detailed than you expect. In fact, one of the great aspects of Campbell's writing is that each of his characters is so well defined and so interesting that it is hard not to be drawn to them, even Carnival and Devon. Dill is likable in his naivete and his desire to succeed, as well as the weight of the burden of being the last of his kind. Rachel, though rough, has a side she refuses to yield to fully, holding back a piece of herself out of fear of losing herself forever. Campbell's most outstanding creation, however, is Carnival, the scarred angel who feeds and enjoys what she does but feels despair afterwards. None of these characters is cookie-cutter nor are they paper thin.
A second strength of the author is his utter disregard for laying out the bare bones of his story for readers. Getting into SCAR NIGHT may seem like work initially, but that is only because you are made to feel like you've just arrived. You cannot know everything about a place right from the outset, and Campbell makes you work for the information. He will give you the nuggets you need as you progress, yet you will still be left with questions.
What are those chains attached to?
--- Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard
It is a dark place. Despite Campbell's periodic references to the brightness of the sun and the cloudless skies it always felt to me like they were in a pit or a cave. Perhaps this was a result of the underlying despair of the "last" angel Dill and his inability to meet his self-imposed expectations, the novice Spine assassin who wants and loathes her job simultaneously, the vampiric angel Carnival who enjoys the hunt and the kill every month until the deed is done and then she loathes herself, the bitter and slightly mad poisoner Devon who believes the whole city owes him an impossible debt and knows nothing will bring his beloved wife back, and the obvious despair of the man who lost his daughter's soul to a murderer and is consumed with first of all avenging her, and then bringing her back.
Campbell seems to take a somewhat dim view of organized religion and his gods are much more like those from Greece, Rome, and Scandanavia then any now worshipped. Angels are not necessarily immortal, and apparently, from the hints, they follow Lucifer more in disposition than Michael being very egotistical and seemingly to reproduce they must impregnant human women which results in the death of the mother at birth (not a completely fleshed out back story, perhaps in the sequel we'll learn more). There's a lot of promise here for more fast paced and involved sequels. The plot twist is not forseeable and the conclusion is anything but foregone making it a good read in my book. I don't recommend it for someone who wants a happy ending and you need to like fantasy to wade through the jargon, but I highly recommend if for any fantasy fan looking for something NEW.
I could go on for ages giving you JUST the basic plot without spoiling this book for you. It is INCREDIBLY dense and I had a difficult time plowing through it. However, I remind myself that I also had difficulty getting through both "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" series the first time and I now love both, so I will hold on to this book and hope that future books in this series will assist in bringing the first book more into focus. If you are a fan of dark fantasy or horror, you would likely find this book of interest. You may want to wait at least until the 2nd book comes out if you don't have the patience to wait to discover just where Campbell is going with this, but then again, you must make up your own mind. I know I will be waiting for the next book with interest.
First off, the world that Alan Campbell has created is highly imaginative and memorable, dominated by Deepgate, a city comprised of chains suspended over the seemingly bottomless abyss into the realm of Ulcis, "Hoarder of Souls". Within the city itself are a number of distinctive districts (League of Rope, Bridgeview, etc.) that add personality to Deepgate, all of which is vividly rendered by Mr. Campbell. Unfortunately, aside from Deepgate, the larger world in which the city of chains resides in is only hinted at, and even when the action does take us to new locales, I found their portrayal much less engrossing and descriptive than that of the city.
Populating the world of Scar Night is a host of archetypical characters like the `naïve, wants to be a hero, last descendant of a legend', teen-angel Dill; the `torn between duty and my heart' Spine assassin Rachel Hael; and the `wise, yet hiding something' Presbyter Sypes with the Poisoner Devon playing the part of flawed antagonist and the ancient, insane angel Carnival & the out-for-revenge scrounger Mr. Nettle emerging as the book's antiheroes. Of these, I found the narratives of Poisoner Devon and Mr. Nettle the most entertaining and unique (with the scenes involving Carnival the most action-packed), though truthfully the characterization as a whole is very shallow and inconsistent - no one is really fleshed out with perhaps the exception of Devon; we never see relationships develop between characters though they act as if they have (Ex. Dill and Rachel); and characters constantly act out of turn with no explanations behind their actions.
Normally this does not bother me too much if the storytelling and pacing are strong enough to carry the book, but unfortunately this is another area where Mr. Campbell needs work on. While Scar Night starts out strong enough, the novel as a whole is a disjointed affair, with some chapters that had me absolutely glued to the pages due to the heart-pounding action, unique imagery and fascinating concepts that were depicted, while other scenes left me bored or unfulfilled, with the concluding chapters reading like a rushed and underdeveloped mess, despite all of the great ideas involved.
Fortunately, with Scar Night, Mr. Campbell has laid down the groundwork for a strong enough mythos - angels, fallen gods (Ulcis), undead, a god of Mazes (Iril), Heshette nomads, Ayen the God of Light, Spine assassins, an ancient weapon of mass destruction - that, despite the book's faults, was entertaining enough to leave me looking forward to the next volume in the Deepgate Codex, where hopefully by then, Alan Campbell's skills as a writer will have improved...
The strengths of the book mostly lie in its background. One is the underlying mythos: a millennia-ago war in heaven, a god who waits in the abyss below a major city as they feed him their dead (along with the dead's souls) so he can create another army to storm heaven, a race of angels, a powerful church, a once-powerful group of heathens. Another strength is the setting--the city of Deepgate, suspended by massive chains over the god's abyss, chains that wind through the entire city, holding up houses and blocks (or sometimes not, as the chains are known to deteriorate). The character types, while somewhat familiar to fantasy fans, are also a solid plus: the assassin pained by her skill at death, a creature pained by its need to feed on humans to sustain itself, a head priest whose faith isn't as solid as it seems, the assistant who never knows enough. These are joined by two relatively original creations: Dill, the boy-angel who longs to match the stature of his ancestors who were great battle-archons that protected the city; and Devon, the master poisoner who is unlikable in so many ways but also charmingly compelling.
All of these strengths bring the book up to an average, solidly enjoyable read. But the book's weaknesses keep it from breaking beyond average and sometimes strongly disappoint the reader. For one, little of the background strengths are realized to their potential. The city could have been much more of a character in the story and while there are some nicely done passages in this vein, it just wasn't enough. One doesn't "feel" the city as one does say, in Mieville's New Crobuzon or VanDermeer's Ambergris. And the characters aren't fully fleshed out either, just like the city. Carnival, the vampire-like angel who needs to feed on "Scar Night" to maintain her seeming immortality comes closest (she reminds me, in paler fashion, of C.S. Friedman's Gerald Terrant in her Coldfire Trilogy) though we don't see enough of her through most of the book. The assassin, Rachel, deepens somewhat but only past the halfway point, and Devon is pretty solid all the way through, but in a pretty mechanistic sense as he is mostly driven by revenge. But the others vary greatly in their fullness of presentation. Dill, sadly enough, is merely a pale shadow for just about all of the book. Mr. Nettle is a strong character, but single-minded so that lessens his impact somewhat.
The plot, similarly, has lots of potential, but fails to fully achieve it. Sometimes events seem a bit arbitrary, happening as they do only for the plot's sake and not naturally due to character. Some events are simply too rushed, or feel very anticlimactic, such as almost all the experience with the god of the story. Battles, whether minor or major, are handled a bit perfunctorily, with little tension or excitement. And the look ahead to the next book is far too abrupt. There is also too much vagueness surrounding some of the mythology, especially as we get a closer view of its reality. By that, I don't mean that there are questions to be answered by future books but points that should have been clarified for the purposes of this book (don't want to give away plot points, so excuse my own vagueness on this point).
In the end, a solid three sort of book. The kind of opening book where I'll read the second book, but rather than buy the hardcover version of it as soon as it comes out (a sign of strong interest), I'll get it out of the library. And decide then if it's worth continuing the series. A mild recommendation due to its potential, with hopes that further books do a much better job of achieving its potential.