Review: Dream London / Author: Tony Ballantyne / Publisher: Solaris Books / Release Date: Out Now
Unlike his previous pure sci-fi novels such as Divergence and Capacity, this latest offering by Tony Ballantyne is an urban fantasy. Set, as are so many, in a version of London that can be traced to our own, how well has this BSFA and Philip K. Dick nominee crafted this particular tale and how original is it?
The story focuses on one Captain Jim Wedderburn who becomes our window into this transformed world as he wanders the ever-changing landscape of Dream London. Captain Wedderburn is not an everyday hero – whoremonger and self-interested criminal, he has few redeeming qualities and makes for an interesting character. The main character though is the city itself, which has become Dream London and every day the buildings, parks, streets and the inhabitants themselves all change. Events become stranger and stranger, as the mysterious cartel (aligned with the US who are debating a nuclear strike on the city) and the Daddio want every rogue of note to work for him.
For the most part this is a well-executed and strong novel bearing comparison to Neverwhere. The opening chapter is as well crafted as any I have read for a long time, the setting and characters are increasingly outlandish, and as the action progresses the reader becomes more interested in how London became Dream London and how Captain Jim might save the day. Although London-based urban fantasies are quite common at the moment (e.g., Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, Paul Cornell’s London Falling or Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels), this carves out its own niche by allowing the author’s imagination to twist every aspect of the city.
It is only towards the very end that the story moves from the fantasy to the surreal and in making some life-choices; Captain Jim learns that his role is mostly one of distraction and that he is actually of little real consequence to the story’s resolution. Sadly the story also explains most of what is going on and, as with the end of Wizard of Oz, there is maybe a sense of disappointment. We do get to tap into the zeitgeist as we learn that the instigators of London’s demise were the bankers followed by estate agents and with a strong dollop of Blitz spirit Londoners themselves save the day. It is nice, though, to have an author write a standalone story rather than start yet another series. For the most part this novel rates a strong 9, by the end you're left with a…