Thursday, May 24, 2007

THE NARROWS by Alexander C. Irvine

Here is another review originally published with SFReader in 2006. It is a great novel, and one I hope all of you take a look at--it is very much worth the time and effort. Not to mention it is extraordinarily entertaining.

Next week I will--finally!--have at least one original review here at Gravetapping; to wet your appetite I'm just finishing A Fine Night For Dying by Jack Higgins, and Pulitzer Prize winner The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Maybe one, or hell I may go wild and get both reviewed and online sometime next week.

The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine is an urban / historical fantasy novel set in World War Two Detroit. It is the story of Jared Cleaves. Jared works on the line of a golem factory in Detroit--the factory is owned by Henry Ford, but the work going on inside is certainly not automobile manufacturing. While Jared's job is unusual, it is routine, if not down-right tedious, as he sifts through clay looking for anything non-organic: iron, steel, barbed wire, fencing or anything else that might destroy the golem's awakening. An old rabbi who works just off the plant floor uses ancient magic to bring the golems to life. And they are sent out into the world to fight the Nazi menace.

This novel is anything but routine. Irivine develops a cast of seemingly real, living, breathing characters. Jared Cleaves is a working class kid with a wife, a young daughter and a smashed up hand that keeps him out of the war. He has tried to enlist, on more than one occasion, but they designate him 4-F every time. He doesn't want much, but he wants to do his part, make his sacrifice for the war effort. And, he tries to convince himself, he is doing just that in the golem factory, but he can't seem to shake the idea that he is a slacker, a bum, or even worse, a coward. These emotions make Jared the perfect target for a game of spy versus spy. He doesn't know much, but everyone, including a talking bird, a couple competing German spies and an American outfit called the OEI, wants everything he has and more. It begins when his supervisor bullies him into getting information about Henry Ford's newest plant at the Rouge, and it doesn't end until Detroit is brought to its knees by a race riot, and Jared is in the middle of it all.

The Narrows is that unusual novel that is able to mix fantasy--curses, magic, and wonder--with a well focused historical setting that seems not only real, but also accurate and factual. Irvine's descriptions of wartime Detroit are harrowing and complete. He has an ability to bring the city and its residents alive. The reader can see the streets, the factories, and more importantly the people as they struggle through their journeys. The fantasy is a small element that, as the story progresses, gains more and more significance, until it overshadows the history and makes the story plain with its own simplicity.

Alexander Irvine is a writer that has the ability to tell a gritty, real and worthwhile story and entertain at the same time. The Narrows is one of the best novels--fantasy or anything else--released in 2005. Its look at racism, war, and the working class is poignant and thought provoking, while its replacement of monsters (golems, werewolves and dragons) for the monsters-that-are-men (Nazis, war, and the over-zealous) is excruciatingly accurate. The Narrows should be on every reader's list, but short of that lofty goal, it should at least be on your reading list.

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