Thursday 12 November 2009

Review: Candle Man: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance by Glenn Dakin

Murder, mystery, and adventure aren’t your typical birthday presents . . .But for Theo, anything that breaks up his ordinary routine is the perfect gift. A mysterious “illness” and Theo’s guardians force him into a life indoors, where gloves must be worn and daily medical treatments are the norm. When Theo discovers a suspicious package on his birthday, one person from the past will unlock the secret behind Theo’s “illness” and change his life forever. Molded into an exhilarating steampunk adventure that gives birth to the next great fantasy hero, Theo Wickland, Candle Man: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance is the first book in a trilogy by debut author Glenn Dakin.

After finishing Leviathan I was very much in a steampunk mood and this book had just arrived from Amazon so without any hesitation I completely ignored the rest of the books on my ‘still to read’ list and dived straight into Candle Man: The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. Beautifully presented book cover aside, the title alone was enough to grab my attention, conjuring up mental images of Edgar Wallace’s ‘Four Just Men’ books and 1930s pulps such as ‘The Shadow’ and ‘Doc Savage’. However, I have to say I was a little disappointed though only because despite this being marketed as a steampunk story there are few, if any, steampunk elements to this story, or at least what I personally would consider to be essentials of the steampunk genre. As I have previously explained, steampunk is generally set in the past (usually, but not exclusively, in the Victorian era) with anachronistic technology, whereas this book has a modern setting, with modern technology such as laptops. At least I think it is a modern setting – the author makes subtle references throughout to that effect, but there are also some passages that make you wonder whether it is actually a Victorian setting. Confused? So was I at times. But..... and this is a big but, don’t let this put you off reading this book because the story is wonderful.

The hero of the story is Theo, a boy who has spent his whole life in secluded from other people, except for his guardian, a butler/bodyguard and the maid. His reading and viewing material is very carefully chosen and so he has grown up to be a naive and neurotic young man whose annual visits to a graveyard on his birthday are his only contact with the outside world. Until, that is, a couple of burglars enter his world one night when his guardian is away from home. During this burglary Theo discovers a) a secret room in the house and b) that he has a ‘super power’. I won’t go into any more detail about this power as I would hate to give away any spoilers, but the story from this moment on becomes a voyage of discovery for Theo. Who is he? Why does he have this power? Why has he been secluded from the rest of society all of his life?

As Theo sets out on this journey we are introduced to new characters and new creatures, including the wonderfully feisty Chloe - she's no damsel in distress; it's Chloe who gets the feeble Theo out of trouble! However, despite the thoroughness put into creating Theo’s character, not all of these secondary characters are fully developed, but this is Glenn Dakin’s first book, and also the first in a series of Candle Man books, so I expect we will see further development of these characters in the future. The story has a great pace to it, and this may also contribute towards this lack of character development in places, and also the confused feeling I had regarding the setting – in places descriptive writing may have been sacrificed in order to keep the story moving at such a fast pace. This will really appeal to some readers and, if I am perfectly honest, it caught me in just the right frame of mind. After Leviathan I was still in the mood for a fast paced, enjoyable story with lots of humour and this suited that mood perfectly.

The humour in this book is perfectly suited to middle grade readers. It varies from quirky, to dark, to gruesome - `Sorry, sir, but I thought you might like to know. Your face is melting' is a one-liner worthy of a classic Bond film or Carry on Screaming! Mr Dakin uses this humour very well – he knows when and, more importantly, when not to use it; some authors try to put too much humour in to their stories, but this is not evident in this book. The author even manages to use humour in some of the darker scenes, through the almost comical actions of his Smoglodytes. Think ‘Gremlins’ – even when they are at their most menacing in the movie Joe Dante and Chris Columbus still keep the laughter flowing.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable read. I was so hooked by the story that I finished it in one sitting (sadly an increasingly rare feat these days due to work pressures) and I am really looking forward to the next instalment in the series. Just one thing Mr Dakin….. please ask your publishers to be more careful with their use of the term ‘steampunk’.

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