The first entry in the Pendulum fantasy trilogy, from the author of The Pilo Family Circus (2006).
Eric Albright, an apathetic 26-six-year-old London journalist, writes a column his colleagues consider to be a joke. His only friend, Stuart “Case” Casey, is a drunk who lives under a nearby railway bridge. One day, while on his way to play chess with Case, a small red door appears under the bridge. To Eric’s surprise, a gang of weirdos emerges and robs the nearby news agent. When the door later reappears, Eric and Case go through and find themselves in Levaal, a land dominated by a huge, white, dragon-shaped castle. The castle’s proprietor, Lord Vous, has ambitions to transform himself into an immortal. Vous dreads the Shadow, a being he believes haunts him and which might not even be real. Vous’ chief servant is the Arch Mage, the most powerful of a group of wizards who, if they overuse magic, risk cooking themselves from within. Only a handful of Free Cities are not yet under Vous’ control, and luckily, Eric and Case fall in with a band of warriors who resist Vous’ growing power. In Levaal, Eric and Case are known as Pilgrims, for reasons unclear, though they can understand the language of all the peculiar creatures that live there—such as the Invia, mysterious beings resembling angels. One of the Invia gives Case a magical necklace and asks him to go spy on Vous, which, in exchange for a drink, he’s happy to do. Where is this going, and does it all add up? Answers are uncertain; the characters talk the talk but don’t have a real presence, and the narrative is mostly aimless. Still, it’s inventive enough, not to say puzzling, and sets forth in prose of great clarity; this may be enough to tempt readers to return for future installments.
Not altogether convincing but it has its charms.