By Tim Powers (Ace; 1983)
Fact: this rollicking time travel fantasy isn’t a true “horror” novel by any stretch of the imagination. It has, however, been appropriated by the horror community, mostly due to its (rather inexplicable) listing in the seminal HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS, so I’ll review it as such.
As with all the Tim Powers novels I’ve read, THE ANUBIS GATES is a difficult book to summarize. At its simplest it’s about Brendan Doyle, an American professor thrust back in time to England of 1810. He goes as part of an expedition run by J. Cochran Darrow, an opportunistic millionaire who uses gaps in the time-stream to transport wealthy people into the past, the purpose in this case being an important lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But Doyle, who’s along for the ride as a Coleridge expert, inevitably winds up stranded in 1810.
Among the outrages Doyle confronts are Dog-Faced Joe, a werewolf of sorts who transfers his consciousness from one body to the next. Doyle actually becomes one of Joe’s victims, and as such is stuck in one of the cast-off bodies–which turns out to be advantageous, as Doyle’s new body closely resembles that of William Ashbless, a poet who resided in England during the early 1800s. Doyle thus becomes Ashbless, utilizing his recollections of the latter’s poems to enhance the guise.
Other characters include Jacky, a young woman disguised as a man who’s determined to track down and kill Dog-Faced Joe; Horrabin, a beggar king who walks on stilts; Doctor Romany, an evil sorcerer who wears spring-heeled shoes; and the Spoon-Sized Boys, so named because they’re literally the size of spoons. Lord Byron also figures into the action, or at least a lifelike facsimile, as does another such facsimile–or ka–of Doyle himself.
I haven’t really given a whole lot away, as the above is only a small portion of what occurs in this jam-packed epic. The wonder is that Tim Powers manages to keep his footing throughout, delivering a fast moving and unerringly enjoyable account with goodly amounts of breakneck action, madcap comedy and historical speculation. Powers’ nostalgic yet gritty depiction of early-1800s England is always fully convincing, and the sci fi angle is equally well handled. In a word, THE ANUBIS GATES is FUN.