Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski,
Crashing Paradise (Ace, 2007)
The Menagerie, that strange collection of supernatural beings lead by immortal sorcerer and alchemist Arthur Conan Doyle is back, and this time, their worst enemies are lurking in the shadows, ready to put an end to their works. Ceridwen, exiled Fey princess, faces off against a legendary half-blood, her age-old nemesis. Eve, the first woman and mother of all vampires, is stalked by a demon she's feared since time began. Squire the hobgoblin is hunted by a shadowy predator. The ghostly Dr. Leonard Graves, pulp-style adventurer turned spectral investigator, and Danny the teenage demon, and even Clay, a shapeshifting golem abandoned when the world was young, likewise encounter their worst nightmares, as the dark forces unite together for a concerted attack upon a long-lost place, the secret heart of all that's good and pure in the world. This may be the battle that the Menagerie, accustomed to being the underdogs, simply can't win. But if they fail, Eden itself will fall, and with it, the world. Doyle and his motley crew must accept some dubious aid, and marshal their dwindling resources in a desperate attempt to prevent disaster . . . all the while knowing that the true fight has yet to occur. Once again, the fate of the world lies in the hands of a bunch of outcasts, oddballs, and monsters.
Crashing Paradise is the fourth book in the Menagerie saga, which reads like a horror-infused, dark fantasy version of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, if you fed it a steady dose of Phillip Jose Farmer and a little Simon Green for good measure. The characters are drawn from a wide spectrum of inspirations, from the pulp-era adventurer turned ghost, to the Biblical Eve as a repentant vampire, to the sheer outrageousness of Arthur Conan Doyle reimagined as an unaging, manipulative, secretive sorcerer and the leader of this band of misfits. They make for a fascinating group to read about, especially when pitted against their opposite numbers, worst enemies, and darkest secrets. Golden and Sniegoski do a great job of keeping things moving, switching gears and focus to follow the various plot threads in this book. We continue to learn more of the various characters, with Eve and Clay getting some more of the focus this time around, just as in previous books, Danny and Graves got their turn to shine, and before that Doyle and Ceridwen. As always, Squire, the foul-mouthed, shadow-stepping, snake-loving goblin, their armorer and resident lech, gets the best lines, stealing the show whenever he's around to offend peoples' sensibilities.
The only drawback is that this is the fourth in an ongoing series, and as such, it picks up on situations and storylines carried over from the previous books, including one major overarcing plot which promises to be resolved at a later date. Newcomers might want to start with the first in the series, The Nimble Man, and work their way forward, just to gain a proper understanding and appreciation of what's going on in Crashing Paradise. Of course, it's a wholly enjoyable series, so this shouldn't be too great a task. Existing fans of the series will most likely continue to enjoy it. With its unusual blend of dark fantasy, superhero, and pulp influences, Crashing Paradise is another worthy installment of the Menagerie series, and I'll be anticipating whatever comes next for our unlikely heroes.
[Michael M. Jones]