A dope-addicted bike messenger tries to change his stars in a futuristic war-torn republic that reflects some of the best fantasy fiction.
Kadrey (Hollywood Dead, 2018, etc.) is a trip most of the time anyway, but here he’s deviated from his signature Hellblazer-esque Sandman Slim books and supernatural humor novels to deliver a stand-alone heavy hitter that’s more in line with recent deviants like Chuck Wendig’s upcoming Wanderers (2019) and Daniel H. Wilson’s The Clockwork Dynasty (2017). Tonally, this lush novel is closer to Scott Lynch’s pirate fantasy The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006), but technologically it resembles the near-future dystopias of Cory Doctorow or China Miéville. The nominal hero is Largo Moorden, a bike messenger and junkie trying to make his way through the fictional community of Lower Proszawa, which is just emerging from “The Great War” with its northern neighbor. Largo has a girl he loves and a rather mysterious boss in Herr Branca, for whom he delivers anonymous packages. In Blade Runner–esque fashion, there’s everything but the kitchen sink in Largo’s environment, including a murky dust called the “city silver” that coats the city, a plague that threatens to decimate the population, and “The Drops,” a mystery illness that causes citizens to, well, drop dead. Interstitial interludes from fictional histories and documents build out the mythology. Kadrey has also infused his saga with a terrific cast of characters that includes a traumatized soldier; the cast of a bizarre, hedonistic theater that takes its name from the book’s title; and Baron Hellswarth, the influential and elite customer who could help lift Largo out of his wretched life or ruin it forever. Throw in radicals using eugenics to create creatures that should never have existed, and the automata—sentient robots whose purposes are probably worse than you imagine—and the odd mix of debauchery and desperation starts to gel into a stark and compelling vision.
Wildly ambitious and inventive fantasy from an author who’s punching above his weight in terms of worldbuilding—and winning.