In the third volume in the Book of Lost Doors series, Burnett continues to push the boundaries of paranormal soap opera; a genre that, if he didn’t invent he has made his own. While using the same preternatural outsiders living among us seed as urban fantasy and paranormal romance, there are no Byronic heroes who just need the right woman, beautiful people with a magical quirk, or happily-ever-afters here.
Picking up some time after the end of Cannibal Hearts, the novel opens with James discovering someone has kidnapped Agony Delapour. The feelings of amusement he shares with Catskinner at the abductors’ horrific mistake turn to concern when he discovers that – while the mooks who did the grab might not know what they are involved in – the person behind them has a vastly superior understanding. With his allies dying or changing sides and Delapour & Associates facing both physical and metaphysical attacks, James and Catskinner must move beyond their role of paranormal killing force.
This book takes the themes and world of the previous two books and expands them, both in terms of metaphysical depth and character growth.
And the depth is phenomenal: while the rituals and powers displayed are not explained in enough detail to be a cook book, they have the same feeling of being taken from a real source that infuses the best Mythos fiction.
However, Burnett is not writing just for existing fans of the series. The novel also functions as an introduction to the world and characters. While this does involve a certain amount of exposition, previous events are revealed on an as needed basis rather than in a long ‘Previously in the Book of Lost Doors’ prologue or ‘As you know, we need to use an Enochian bumfuzzle to drive the ploton matrix’ dialogue.
It would be easy to read this as another weird horror story in the vein of Lovecraft or Hellraiser – and readers looking for exactly that will not be disappointed – but the real strength lies in the characters. Despite many of the major players being altered significantly from human norms or even not properly human to begin with, they are portrayed with an empathy more than equal to the fully human characters of many books.
With Godiva gone from his life, James is attempting to live a more carefree life, but is trapped by his knowledge that he can have long-term relationships.
This dichotomy between the outsider James’ metaphysics makes him and the loved family member his best efforts might let him be, is mirrored in the inhuman attachment Catskinner has to both Agony and others.
Other characters from the first two books are similarly drawn as people who have a peculiar and occult obsession rather than peculiar and occult creatures that are not human. The blue boys, necrodim, and others are just as creepy as before, but their weirdness has an internal consistency that both separates them from the whim and caprice of humanity and makes the idea they are as human as anyone else all too plausible.
The book is weaker when Burnett moves away from humans who have made extreme choices into the creatures outside reality themselves. Although he does successfully represent an alien logic, the portrayal of things that are not comprehensible is – ironically – rendered slightly less immersive by the contrast with the uncomfortable accessibility of the other characters.
As with the first two volumes, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I recommend it to all readers of speculative or surreal fiction.
I received an advance copy from the author without obligation.