The Glooming is a curious mixture of genres and tropes. It has the appearance of a book that might have been ‘written to market’ but the more I got into it, the less I thought this. It has a structure that risks turning many readers off in that it has several interlocking stories (okay, by several I actually mean lots – we’re getting into Magnolia/Short Cuts territory…with the apocalypse, of all things!) and sometimes there is a long gap between them. My favourite thing about this book: I love this kind of writing, and any author willing to risk it in a world where authors are (just in my opinion) avoiding unconventional and long-drawn narratives more and more can have my vote.
When I first laid eyes on this author’s work via Kboards, I took a pass largely because of one book in the series being entitles Pagan Apocalypse. Really not my sort of combination. The idea of an army of old gods bringing about the end of the world seemed like the stuff of Hollywood disaster blockbusters that go so far into the absurdity that they make millions even on the backs of two star reviews. So what persuaded me to read this? I’ll admit it: it was the cover, and the ‘Free’ pricetag at a time when it felt like forever since I last got paid.
Don’t let my initial impressions fool you though. The Glooming is very readable, and I finished it feeling interested in where the story goes next. There were times during this book when I put it down only to go to work or do something else essential, and felt it trying to call me back. That’s the stuff of bestseller page turners. In other places, I felt like I was just going through the motions, but the good moments were worth it.
There’s a wonderful chapter where two odious women get a nasty surprise from a cutesy little pet (from now on, every yucky little yapper dog I set eyes on is going to be called ‘Bibsy’ by default) and the said dog goes on to have probably the most engaging role in the book as a whole. There’s a subsequent ‘many faced god’ vibe I like, with echoes of Neil Gaiman and George RR to boot. After a police action scene where I was filling up Kindle notes with highlights on slightly awkward sentences and dull dialogue and slightly formulaic action, the author won me straight back with a genuinely shocking chapter involving a vigilante border guard. (Some of this series is YA books, but The Glooming is full on with the adult content, for those readers who prefer it.)
There are some nice dabblings in the military fiction genre as well, with the CIA and special forces at play in the middle east when the apocalypse gods decide to join them, and a fantastic transformation for one character where I was back in Hollywood territory but thinking ‘This is pretty cool.’
The three star review is largely down to there being room for improvement on the prose itself. There are some nice descriptions, and grammatically Triptych is a sound prose writer, but all the way through I was aware of certain types of sentence construction that were repeated a little too close to each other – namely the ‘as’ sentence, where two actions are happening at once. (Edit after reading some other reviews: one Amazon reviewer suggested making a drinking game out of spotting these, and I kind of agree, it might be fun, but it would still take you a good length of the book before you were well and truly hammered.)
There’s an absence of the kind of clever and memorable one-liners I’d expect to find in a book like this, and times when dialogue reads like something from an essay the character would write rather than what they’d say. Granted, some characters in this are academics, but I caught a few of the lowlife and disadvantaged characters talking this way in places, and it was all a bit flat. I’ll blame the editor rather than the author for the odd comma splice as well (let’s face it, all authors sometimes do it, and back when I only read books I’d never have taken any notice, even if for some reason the sentence felt odd.)
Before you take a pass on the book, don’t let this put you off – I’m nitpicky, and I wish I could read without turning my craft-head off, and if this wasn’t enough to make me drop the book then it probably won’t be for the person I’d imagine to be Triptych’s ideal reader: someone who’s out to have fun with lots of action, explosions, desperation and generally world-ending atmosphere.