This is a strange and ambitious book that promises great things, and instead delivers something else entirely. In Chapter 1 we are introduced to a character called “The Maker,” who we know from the book blurb is a “mysterious figure” with characters quaking to find out “just why The Maker has chosen to meet them.” But after the focus lavished on it in the opening scene, the title The Maker is barely, if ever, mentioned again. It doesn’t even really fit with the modest and unassuming character of Emerson as you get to know him.
The first part of the book feels like a long drawn out trailer for story that never really happens. It’s as though the blurb, and Chapter 1, were written as a statement of intent by the author when he started, but the book itself then took on a different life as it was written and the start was never adjusted to fit.
What’s surprising is that while you’re waiting in vain for the dramatic fulfilment promised by the relentless teasing; quietly, and slowly, a moving, imaginative and compelling story emerges, almost despite itself.
Rather than an intimidating mysterious figure, Emerson is a complex and interesting character, rather beleaguered, and more saddled with his unusual talent, than wielding it powerfully. His motivations are as much a mystery to him as they are to anyone else, and one of the most interesting aspects of the book is his struggle to decide whether to use his skill to hurt or to heal as he tries to carve out a home for himself both in post-Civil War America, and in his own busy and invaded brain.
There are plenty of well-drawn and morally complex supporting characters in the story, from the sisters struggling to adjust to adulthood without parents to guide them, troubled Odell finding solace in music and his broken but guilt-riddled father. Although they sometimes feel more like clever sketches than fully developed characters, and the villain, Clay, is more of a cliché. The book is packed with evocative images and the threads of the story hold together well. Surprisingly the supernatural core of the book is very naturally and effortlessly described, making it believable.
Unfortunately the book’s end is almost as frustrating as its start. Emerson’s own story is wrapped up nicely in a beautifully imagined and realised set piece, but other plot arcs are left unresolved or simply anti-climatic.
It’s intriguing and unusual and definitely worth reading, but perhaps with adjusted expectations than those set up by the cover.
Published: 31st March 2016, Quercus Books