Will Starling saves the world from itself, if he can survive all the puns.
Rankin, a cult mini-industry across the pond but still a big old nothing on these shores, has saved the critics here a good pile of work since, as he has one of his confused characters say, “If this were a book or a movie, the critics would tear it to pieces, saying that the hero was two-dimensional and the entire sorry business unconvincing and totally plot-led.” Precisely. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been a spot of good fun. What’s not to like about a futuristic novel in which nervous guy Will, who works at the Tate Gallery, discovers on close examination of a Victorian painting that one of the figures in it is wearing a digital watch? It seems that there was an entire alternate history in which the Victorians had made all sorts of technological leaps, allowing the British Empire to rule pretty much anywhere it wanted to, only to have that history erased in the year 1900 and replaced with the boring dregs left to us. The whole thing is due to a conspiracy, of course, something to do with a cabal of witches, H.G. Wells (mostly invisible), Jack the Ripper, and a talking sprout named Barry that implants itself in Will’s skull but is always sleeping when he needs help. In a desperate attempt to keep things interesting, seeming at times like a smart-alecky kid telling a nonstop stream of terrible jokes at the grownup party he just crashed, Rankin throws in some Terminator-style killer robots and more horrible puns and alliteration than should ever be attempted by mortal man. It seems like mere carping to complain that a book of this sort could have been enjoyable had it not tried so darn hard—Rankin obviously revels in his kitchen-sink approach—but that’s the case nonetheless.
Attention-deficit SF humor: like Douglas Adams on a sugar high.