Homunculus: A Tale of Langdon St. Ives by James P. Blaylock
Genere(s): Steampunk, Horror, Macabre, Action
Publisher: Titan Books
Availability: Paperback, eBook
Description: It is the late 19th century and a mysterious airship orbits through the foggy English skies. It’s terrible secrets are sought by many, including the Royal Society, a fraudulent evangelist, a fiendish vivisectionist, an evil millionaire and an assorted group led by the scientist and explorer Professor Langdon St. Ives. Can St. Ives keep the alien Homunculus out of the claws of the villainous Ignacio Narbondo?
What an experience! Sadly, Homunculus wasn’t always a positive experience. The good news is that even with the negatives, it still held my interest — even if it was for the sheer confusion that the multitude of characters and sub plots created. This was the first book of Mr. Blaylock’s I have read and the first of the Tales of Langdon St. Ives. (Editor’s note: To read the Pop Cults review of the previous Langdon St. Ives book, The Aylesford Skull, click here. -T) I think I missed something in some of the other books, at least I hope I did. The reader is thrown into this book head first, and there is little if any background information given on any of the characters or their relationships, which at times seemed more complex than the characters themselves. Before delving into this story, I tried to determine which of the Tales of Langdon St. Ives came first and Titan Books and James P. Blaylock both failed to give me any chronological order. If the order of the books makes some of Homunculus easier to understand, then the actual order of the books is a must.
Ignaccio Narbondo, Langdon St. Ives… I get that this story is Steampunk, but some of the names of the characters seemed like they belonged in a comic book rather than a written novel. None of the names were a huge distraction, but taken as a whole they seem a bit over the top. A villain named Ignaccio Narbondo, did give the story a melodramatic feel, and I could easily see him twisting his mustache and cackling as he left a maiden tied to the train tracks. It wasn’t just Narbondo that had that feel the whole novel did.
I like stylistic writing, but Homunculus was too much. The encounters between the “good” guys and “bad” guys were taken straight from the keystone cops. Each character made bad — no, wait, each character made stupid decisions, and each one of their opponents seemed to escape always. I’m fine with a few of the bad guys getting away and showing back up, heck it worked in the Mad Max movies, but every single bad guy? Come on. These escapes ended up making the entire cast of characters look plain stupid. They made horrible choices, not only in letting the bad guys live, but in just about everything else they did. If you encounter several bad guys on the street headed towards a wagon, there is a good chance that the driver of said wagon is there as an ally of those bad guys, but in The Tales of Langdon St. Ives, common sense isn’t.
If Blaylock was going for a sense of chivalry and trying to convey a sense of more genteel times, it didn’t translate well. There were some parts of the book where Blaylock really used his skilled penmanship to paint the picture, but he merged so many art styles that while segments of the picture are brilliant, the piece as a whole looked like a child’s finger painting. I do think that Blaylock captured the Victorian tone. He used words and phrases that felt right for the period even if they may or may not be historically accurate.
There was way too much going on in this book, way too many characters, and it all happened way to quickly. The transitions were jerky, and the actions that some of the characters took defied logic in the worst possible ways. Blaylock shows skill with words, but based on Homunculus I’m not sure how good of a story teller he is. I hope that by reading some of his other works, I might gain a greater appreciation for this award winning author.