Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

A sprawling alternate history time-travel story that helped spawn the Steampunk fad.

The Anubis Gates

Ace, 1983, 387 pages

When Brendan Doyle is flown from America to London to give a lecture on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, little does he expect that he will soon be traveling through time and meeting the poet himself. But Brendan could do without being stranded penniless in the teeming, thieving London of 1810.

Only the dazzling imagination of Tim Powers could have assembled such an insane cast of characters: an ancient Egyptian sorcerer; a modern millionaire; a body-switching werewolf; a hideously deformed clown; a young woman disguised as a boy; a brainwashed Lord Byron; and our hero, Brendan Doyle. The Anubis Gates took the fantasy world by storm decades ago, and now fans can savor this Philip K. Dick Award winner all over again.

This venerable classic read very much like the era in which it was written, the 80s, when big multi-character epics with convoluted plots and worldbuilding that didn't have to make much sense were all the rage.

A bunch of Egyptian sorcerers in the 19th century try to summon the god Anubis to throw off the British yoke. This doesn't work, but instead it opens up a bunch of "gates" through which those able to detect them are able to time travel. In the 20th century, a millionaire finds out about the gates and recruits a bunch of rich poetry fans to pay him for a trip back to the 19th century to hear Samuel Taylor Coleridge speak in person. Except it turns out the millionaire actually had another plan — he wanted to meet a body-swapping werewolf who was running amok back then, to bribe him into letting him switch out of his terminally diseased body into a new one.

The main character is a classicist conned into going back in time as the subject matter expert with all the rich time travelers. He gets stranded when one of those Egyptian sorcerers sees the time travelers appear out of nowhere, figures out something is going on, and abducts him to interrogate him. Soon the sorcerer has his own plans, figuring he can use time travel for world domination too.

There is also a woman masquerading as a man while she hunts the werewolf serial killer who murdered her fiancee, a thieves guild, and various other dastardly characters mixing magic, time travel, and ancient gods in an alternate Victorian England.

The story was interesting and Tim Powers cleverly wound all the different threads together, handling the time travel well without worrying about the physics of it or potential paradoxes. Likewise, the reader must simply accept that magic and ancient Egyptian spirits exist, because. It all blends together into a lengthy and imaginative epic.

While the premise was original (in its time) and the stories were interesting, the characters weren't very interesting in themselves, and the plot sometimes seemed to be just a series of stunts, without even a pretense at worldbuilding. I was not as taken with this book as Powers' ardent fans seem to be, but I would be willing to try something else by him.

Rating: 6/10

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, fantasy, reviews, tim powers

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