Ah, judging books by their covers, what folly. You know, from the sly and self-serving smirk on Luff Imbry’s face, I expected this to be a tale about deception, intrigue, derring-do, skulduggery and the like. No, what we have here is an adventure tale cum quest fantasy where Mr Imbry is not really in much of a position to play scoundrel, rogue or rascal. In fact, he spends much of his time figuring out how to escape from the world of inbred religious loonies he’s been stranded upon.
In fact, I feel a little cheated, though I shouldn’t be. The novel’s blurb states quite unequivocally that Imbry is a rascal and a crook and I guess in the other stories he features in, he may well be precisely those things. In this book, his implied talent for cleverness and deception is put aside by a need for self-preservation and some mystery solving.
All that aside, the novel could be best described as pleasantly serviceable. From what little I know of this author, I believe he writes in the Jack Vance vein, which is something I’ve always thought to be fraught with deceptive danger. Vance had a style that is seductive to an author – you want to imbue your every sentence with whimsical poesy and colourful verbiage. He’s easy to imitate – I’ve done it too, but he’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to master. Underneath the “big words” and the dash and the colour lies a scintillating internal logic that only Vance understood. I don’t think anyone will master his voice, only approximate it.
While there are echoes of Vance’s work in the beginning and end sections of this book, it’s too matter of factly constructed to be Vance. It’s also decidedly nastier than anything Vance ever wrote. Vance liked to throw the odd barb at religion and those who adhered to it like glue, but this book all but names religions the playground of the weak-minded and pliable. Doesn’t disguise itself in any way.
Also, I felt like I was reading one novel and portions of another. The beginning and the ending seem to come from outside the central narrative – there’s things going on before and after this story that are alluded to, but I’m not seeing anywhere in the book that this is part of a series. Goodreads isn’t listing it as one. And only about two thirds through the novel does Imbry actually list who may have led him to the forsaken planet he ended up on. Almost an afterthought.
A couple of quibbles that other reviewers have pointed out. Hughes overuses the word “ineffable” a lot. And why call Imbry a fat man throughout? Does Imbry being fat have any significance above and beyond the fact he likes his dinners? Is it part of some characteristic or notoriety he gained in another story? Without knowing this, I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was.
Anyhow, I like enough of what I saw in this book to seek out more of Hughes’ work.