British psychiatric nurse Phil Trevena’s patients are dying, a frightening prelude to the potential loss of all reality—unless he and a time traveler named Daniel can rebuild the clock that commands the Dark Time flux.
Known for his fractured-reality short stories (Dogs With Their Eyes Shut, 2013, etc.), Meloy often mixes comedy and terror, as he does in this debut novel, in which the “devil-in-dreams,” a malevolent force, corrupts some of the Firmament Surgeons—those charged with keeping “the mechanisms of Creation running against the entropy arising from the fall of man”—into Autoscopes, who wage the paranormal Autosomachy war against hope. Linking both death and unmotivated violence to the theft of dreams (echoing Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane), Meloy builds a complex, confusing puzzle while deploying a muscular, humorous, profane voice, which can sometimes backfire. Take this image of “an elderly lady, kyphotic and bandy….” Kyphotic? Technically accurate, yet it stops a reader cold. Whether he links a mass shooting to a man-turned–crazed fish who rides a Mad Max–inspired armored mobility scooter or shows us how a psychiatric patient, Daniel, is really the time-altering “hypnopomp,” Meloy utilizes a daunting array of genre favorites: a zombie; talking animals; murderous, semiorganic machinery; vitreosaurs; a train named the Railgrinder (a nod to Railsea?); and Dune-like Dr. Natus, a living fetus in a bottle, “a dead baby with the mind of a god.”
This tumultuous romp, which shifts rapidly from one character’s viewpoint to another, is anchored by Trevena, whose warmth provides needed emotional continuity in a shocking, roiling, but imitative quest to protect human dreams.