PrintE-mail Written by Christian Bone

In the grand tradition of Phillip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton family or Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Kim Newman’s fiction frequently draws from a melting pot of other sources (particularly Victorian literature and old movies, as they are in the public domain). His latest novel, Angels of Music, is no different and thankfully makes for another strong instalment into the Newmanverse library.

In Angels of Music, the Phantom of the Opera is not just a disfigured romantic but in fact runs the clandestine Opera Ghost Agency – a team of elite female agents who repeatedly save Paris from diabolical masterminds. It takes a strange mind to retool the famous gothic character as the head of a sort of Victorian spoof of Charlie’s Angels but it results in an ingenious, firmly tongue-in-cheek read.

More of a collection of novellas than a novel, the book comprises five separate adventures that each take place ten years apart, starring a new trio of “Angels” each time - ranging from Sherlock Holmes’ Woman Irene Adler (the Angel of Larceny) to Pygmalion’s Eliza Doolittle (the Angel of Many Voices). With such a big cast, Newman gets the chance to pluck multiple forgotten fictional women from obscurity or give a subversive take on a familiar character. Either that, or return to his own creations from his other works e.g. investigative journalist Kate Reed, previously of his Anno Dracula and Diogenes Club books.

Apart from the Angels, each tale is drawn from a new batch of inspirations. Particularly of note is ‘The Mark of Kane’ which casts Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane as a Bond villain, forging an evil alliance with Mr Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s a great example of the thought gone into Newman’s writing: if all these characters existed in the same world, how would they interact and bounce off each other?

It is to Newman’s credit that he doesn’t lose himself in playing in the toybox of pre-existing characters and remembers to flesh the leads out accordingly. Thankfully, considering the premise of the book, his female characters are all “strong” – which here means that they are kick-ass and highly capable and whatnot, but are also well-rounded human beings with inner life as well. The standout is Irene Adler, who we meet at various stages of her life and get to know as far more than just Holmes’ rival.

On the whole, Angels of Music is a sharp-witted, thrilling and frequently hilarious read that is a must for aficionados of Victorian literature, classic movies or female-led spy fiction.



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