The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

The Anubis Gates is the real thing, a classic.
The Anubis Gates book cover

Anubis Gates is reviewed by Elliot, who blogs at Claw of the Conciliator.

After I was introduced to Tim Powers through his Cold War fantasy, Declare, I attempted to track down his earlier works at libraries and used bookstores. Several proved impossible to find. Among these was the novel that first made him famous: The Anubis Gates, so eventually I gave in and bought a new copy. Now, having read it, I understand the reason for its rarity: no one in their right mind would relinquish a copy of such a marvelous book!

Brendan Doyle, a second-rate Coleridge scholar, is hired by wealthy J. Cochran Darrow as part of a peculiar money-making scheme. Darrow has discovered a quasi-magical means of limited time travel, and to raise funds for other exploits, he has arranged to take ten customers back to 1810 to hear Coleridge give a lecture. Doyle’s job is to give the venture a bit of academic gravitas. The first part of the plan goes smoothly, but after the lecture Doyle is kidnapped by a huge bald-headed sorcerer who is intent on learning his magical secrets. Doyle escapes by the skin of his teeth, but finds himself stranded in the past, a friendless pauper.

I’m not sure I could describe the rest of the plot if I wanted to, because it would sound utterly insane. One of Powers’ gifts is the ability to take strange details of the past and knit them together into a convincing secret history, filling in the blanks with a bizarre but logically coherent framework. Suffice it to say that it involves an evil clown, Byron, Coleridge, Egyptian gods, gypsies, a body-switching killer, horrible medical experiments, magical homunculi, Napoleon, a depilatory salon, fire elementals, and a little wooden monkey. And, of course, the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance!

While the plot is complex, it keeps up a fast pace and never gets bogged down in its own twists and turns. For the most part Powers avoids the explanatory speeches which show up in his later works. There’s plenty of sly humour, and a lot of frights, but overall the story plays it straight and doesn’t veer off into the horror or comedy genres. I’ve read quite a few books that tried to follow a similar formula – a rollicking adventure spiced with weird ideas. Usually those works fell flat, were overly predictable, or came off as gimmicky and contrived. Not so with this book – all the pieces work together admirably. The Anubis Gates is the real thing, a classic which no doubt spawned many imitations.

All in all, a tour de force. Skip the used bookstores for this one - go out and buy a new copy today!

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This book is excellent, well written, with a strange plot that does not seem contrived. Power's clearly spends a great deal of time researching details of historical events to create a convincing secret history. I felt that some of the writing was a bit rough in this novel. If you read Power's novels in the order written, each one is better than the last (my favorite Power's novel is Declare (gets a 10), and the story collection, the bible repairman)

8.8/10 from 2 reviews

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