“Campbell has Neil Gaiman’s gift for lushly dark stories and compelling antiheroes”


The city of Deepgate hangs suspended by chains over the bottomless Abyss. It dispatches its souls to everlasting life by casting them into this pit. The Temple’s resident angel, Dill, takes his duties very seriously, but is plagued by snails.

Rachel, a temple assassin, is disgusted to have been assigned to teach and protect him, while a renegade angel, Carnival, stalks the city drinking it’s citizens’ blood.

Meanwhile, Alexander Devon, Deepgate’s official Poisoner is concocting a very special brew.And if the city hasn’t got enough to worry about, in the Abyss, the god Ulcis is massing an army of souls, ready to rise and overthrow the natural order.

Plenty have remarked on the parallels here with Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, a particular favourite of mine, and rhe similarities are clear. Deepgate has the same rambling, decaying vastness as Ghormengast, it is peopled by a similarly wierd and eclectic bunch of characters (the naming conventions are also very Peakian) and the quasi-religious themes will also be familiar. It is a reverential homage, however and Campbell is skilled enough to carve his own story from Deepgate’s bedrock.

Overlaid on all this is a good dose of Steampunk imagery, a nod towards Dune and Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai! and a whole host of sci-fi and future fantasy novels and what you get is a ripping adventure yarn. Deeply immersive and genuinely compelling, this turned into a real page-turner for me and I raced through the last few chapters, eager to get on to the second in the trilogy. I did wonder if this was a “young adult’s book but it deals with some very dark themes and imagery and it is most definitely very grown up.

The characters are great fun; Devon the poisoner, Nettle the scrounger, Rachel the assassin, Dill and Carnival the angels, Stypes and Fogwill the priest… all are expertly drawn, interesting and sympathetic. One or two lack real depth, but this is probably because it must be difficult for the author to devote sufficient effort to such a large and varied cast.

The writing is enviably good for a debut of such huge scope. Campbell is no Peake, for sure, but the writing is accomplished nevertheless; there is some glorious imagery and some very well written scenes – moving, exciting and disturbing by turns. It did occur to me that this would make an excellent film, albeit probably as hard to commit to celluloid as Lord of the Rings…
I loved this and will be paying close attention to Alan Campbell from now on.

`I want life.’
`Life is nothing but degrees of pain and hunger.’ said Devon. ‘Why cling to such suffering? Like everyone else, are you not simply waiting to die?’
The guard snorted. `There’s more to life than waiting for death.’
`What? To breed? Create more snapping mouths to carry your hunger for another generation?’


Reviewed by:

Campbell McAulay

Added 13th June 2015

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Campbell McAulay