Book Review of The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
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Helpful Score: 2


This is yet another book that will leave staunchly divided opinions in its wake. You will either enjoy this book or hate it with a passion. I am among those who loved it.

There are many strange characters in this book: a man who lives backwards in time, circus freaks, an albino spy, The Human Fly, The Mongoose, The Prefects, The Chairman... In all it is quite a motley crew indeed that inhabits the pages of this story. Not all of them are going to be explained. Not all of them make sense. But in this creepy Victorian-era Gothic fantasy novel, they somehow seem right at home.

I can understand why there would be negative reviews of this book:

* The title character, The Somnambulist, remains mostly a mystery. His "powers" are never really explained and he doesn't even act like a true somnambulist.

* To quote the narrator towards the end of the novel, "I expect by now that your disbelief is not so much suspended as dangling form the highest plateau of credulity. Even so, I regret that this next incident requires a further extension of that capacity." You cannot take this book too seriously. Otherwise you might throw it across the room in abject frustration.

* There is a unique sense of humor in the book. Two characters actually refer to themselves by saying, "I'm afraid we're something of a deus ex machina."

* The ending is a mess. And while many people loathe the book for its final revelations and the way in which they played out, I take no real issue with how it unfolded. In a sense it matched the rest of the book. It was chaos. In a sense, so was the plot.

The author describes this book as "a giddy love letter to stories and genres" that he has always loved, namely Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Bleak House, and Doctor Who. To that list I would add Neil Gaiman and Wilkie Collins.


In all, this is a quirky novel that should not be taken too seriously. It will appeal to just as many people as it turns away. But if reading about a Victorian-era magician detective with a Somnambulist for a sidekick sounds interesting, and if you like stories told with elements of the Gothic and the macabre, dipped in sarcastic British humor and rooted in steam punk and urban fantasy, then this book is an absolute gem. If not, you'd probably do better to just run away screaming. It will save you 300 pages of anguish and frustration.