Scar Night is the debut novel from Alan Campbell who, previously, has worked as a designer and coder on the Grand Theft Auto games. It forms, apparently, the first novel in a series to come called The Deepgate Codex. A good, even great first effort Scar Night would seem to (hopefully) establish Campbell as another of the active British fantasists and SF authors that seem to be keeping the innovative side of those genres bubbling along a bit.Scar Night is, mostly, set in the fantastical city of Deepgate, a great metropolis city state, controlled by the church of Ulcis – a good of death and the abyss – and hanging over a pit that delves deep into the earth and is said to be Ulcis’ home. To the pit the denizens of Deepgate offer their dead – unless their blood has been let (losing the soul) all the while defending themselves from the Hesshite heathen tribes beyond the edge of the pit.
Deepgate is old, thousands of years old and in this book their line of guardians, descended from angels who came from the pit, is reduced to but a single member, the curiously named Dill who doesn’t know how to fight, is prevented from flying and is kept cloistered up in the temple buildings. He is joined by Rachel, a member of the ‘spine’, assassains in service to the church who destroy the heathens, protect the temple and also engage endlessly in battle with ‘Carnival’, an insane and fallen angel who feasts on the blood, and soul, of a victim from the city once per month on a night… called Scar Night.
Scar Night is firmly entrenched in the Urban Fantasy genre and contains many of the clockpunk/steampunk references we’d expect to see in such a work – airships, insane chemists, peculiar machinery that nobody really understands. It also has its fair amount of weirdness so, with an urban setting, anachronistic technology and magic (of a sort) all going on comparisons with China Mieville’s work are all but inevitable.
Campbell’s work lacks the surrealism, the sharp political/religious eye and the sheer abandon of Mieville’s work. It is safer – in every way – despite its visceral and violent scenes. You don’t particularly connect with the characters, particularly Dill who just seems like a whining emo kid through the whole damn book up until a bit of a deus ex machina finally makes him relevant. This makes it hard to sympathise with the figures even though the adventure side of the story rattles along happily through the second half of the book and keeps you page-turning particularly through the gigantic siege and the exploration of the abyss.
The ending is suitably apocalyptic but for the first in a series you get a huge amount of closure and it is unclear where the next book will have to go, unless it is simply a book about the same world and not so much about the same characters or situations. That said, it is nice to get a book in a series that is actually complete in itself, unlike many series.
I wouldn’t have picked this up in a book shop myself, but I’m glad the wife did. I will likely be checking out the next in the series when it comes along.