Drachman’s (The Ghosts of Watt O’ Hugh, 2012) time-traveling hero returns for retribution against the man responsible for the death of his beloved.
When Hester Smith comes banging at his door, Watt O’Hugh is a Time Roamer in hiding, wanted for a crime he didn’t commit. Men are pursuing Hester, and it seems her encounter with Watt is not by chance: His ghosts—their “lives violently ripped from them back in 1863”—are needed to help rob a train and also stop a destructive social movement courtesy of the Sidonians. But what’s in it for Watt? The chance to kill Darryl Fawley, the Sidonian leader responsible for the death of Watt’s love, Lucy. Drachman’s exuberant novel is chock-full of fantastical elements; in addition to Watt’s time-roaming ability and spectral allies (often called “deadlings”), there are demons, oracles, dragons and assorted monstrosities. Appearances of such creatures are sometimes played for laughs, as when a city leader reluctant to join the movement is eaten by a “ferocious pond monster,” thereby persuading the next man in line to be a willing participant. Though the novel, set mostly in 1878 and told through flashbacks by an elderly Watt in 1936, professes to be Watt’s memoir, it more closely resembles a standard narrative, with lengthy accounts of fellow Roamer Master Yu presented in third-person, prior to his meeting Watt. Watt unambiguously labels Fawley and another Sidonian head, Allen Jerome, as villains, and he occasionally dilutes his first-person perspective by rushing through specifics, like the teased train robbery, which regrettably is given only highlights. But as an omniscient narrator, even if he has to rely on conjecture, Watt shines, especially in scenes with Yu, who walks the streets of 19th-century Chinatown in San Francisco, sometimes roaming and sidestepping passing cars. Drachman takes full advantage of his historical setting—Watt’s adversary, outwardly aligned in the fight against Sidonia, is J.P. Morgan—and has endless fun with character names: Morgan repeatedly, perhaps intentionally butchers Watt’s handle, including “Walt Hugbert” and “Hugglebuggle.” And Master Yu’s full name is the rather unfortunate Yu Dai-Yung.
An unreliable narrator, but with all his charm and knack for stumbling upon adventures, readers won’t mind.