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Review: Homunculus / Author: James P. Blaylock / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now 

You might recall that we were a bit underwhelmed by Founder of Steampunk James P. Blaylock's latest offering The Aylesford Skull, but this earlier novel featuring several of the same characters is an entirely different barrel of eels. In a foggy Victorian London riddled with crazy inventors, weird science and bizarre intrigues, a bunch of colourful personages (including a brilliant toymaker, an ex-sea captain, a hunchbacked re-animator of corpses and an evangelist with a team of zombie henchmen working for him) vie to be in possession of four mysterious boxes, one of which is said to contain the homunculus of the title – a tiny alien who crash landed to Earth many years before and who has been influencing minds and events ever since.

That box, though, is currently out of reach – believed to be on board a ghost airship helmed by a skeleton that sails periodically over the smoggy skies of the capital. It's a startling image, but only one of many in a novel whose every page is crammed with evidence of Blaylock's feverishly Gothic imagination. Think Charles Dickens by way of Mervyn Peake and M. John Harrison, and you'll have some notion of what's in store. The wheels of the plot spin manically fast, but at the same time the weight of description makes everything feel as if it's happening in slow motion. That might sound like a criticism, but the effect is strangely impressive and nightmarish. A steampunk Titus Groan.

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