Black Bottle review

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Black Bottle is the follow-up to my favorite novel of 2010, The Last Page. It was the debut novel of Anthony Huso, a video game designer, and the series was planned as a duology from the start.  Black Bottle was released on August 21st 2012.  It's been resting for a while on my reading pile for unknown reasons...
Tabloids sold in the Duchy of Stonehold claim that the High King, Caliph Howl, has been raised from the dead. His consort, Sena Iilool, both blamed and celebrated for this act, finds that a macabre cult has sprung up around her. 
As this news spreads, Stonehold—long considered unimportant—comes to the attention of the emperors in the southern countries. They have learned that the seed of Sena’s immense power lies in an occult book, and they are eager to claim it for their own. 
Desperate to protect his people from the southern threat, Caliph is drawn into a summit of the world’s leaders despite the knowledge that it is a trap. As Sena’s bizarre actions threaten to unravel the summit, Caliph watches her slip through his fingers into madness. 
But is it really madness? Sena is playing a dangerous game of strategy and deceit as she attempts to outwit a force that has spent millennia preparing for this day. Caliph is the only connection left to her former life, but it’s his blood that Sena needs to see her plans through to their explosive finish.
Anthony Huso's first two books can't be categorized simply as Fantasy novels. In my review of The Last Page, I chose the term Chemiostaticpunk-fantasy to describe it. There were also some gritty elements and a significant level of weirdness. I found that the author's writing was spectacular with some of its own vocabulary, a voluminous dose of stylistic phrasing; a great prose.  Moreover, the two main characters were more than compelling.  The ending wasn't completely successful but it left interesting threads open, I liked Huso's vision.

So, is Black Bottle maintaining that level of greatness? As far as I'm concerned, not really. On the positive side, the writing of Huso is still mesmerizing for me (but could still be daunting for some readers, the second time around will not redeem those baffled by it...).  I like his style and I would pick up almost any new book he comes up with, mostly so if the world building is still as original and the characters so committed. However, in this second opus, it's the tale itself, the complexity instilled into the story and the dense coat of weirdness that threw me off.

While The Last Page was the story of Caliph and Sena, their difficult love life and the coming of age for the ruler of Stonehold, I think that Black Bottle is mostly the portrayal of Sena's disturbing and astonishing plans set into motion. I'm not disappointed simply by the fact that the focus isn't on Caliph and his people but by the fact that the whole story of the first book doesn't seem that important anymore.

For the first half of the novel, Caliph and newcomer Taelin, a great addition to the cast for a time, a young woman from Pandragor seeking to show the world that Sena's not a goddess, are slowly making their way toward an important meeting with most of the world leaders when something incredible happens. Meanwhile, when we follow Sena, her intentions with the powers and responsibilities given to her through the opening of the Cisrym Ta become harder and harder to comprehend. And after that?  Everything becomes weirder and the story mutates toward something else, a hard to follow endeavor with the destruction of the world at bay and way too much hallucinations.

Hopefully, Caliph remains true to the man he became in The Last Page and I enjoyed most of the chapters where he was the point of view.  But since it's the ex Shradnae witch who becomes the heart of the story, most of the world building created in the previous book becomes less relevant and the Chemiostatic-Fantasy epithet could be switched to Holomorphic-weird-Fantasy.

I grinned on some occasions while reading the book and some threads remained interesting for the better part of them. I think that Black Bottle could please fans of weirdness with tales of apocalyptic proportion embedded deeply in past histories and complex allegories but I can't really shake the feeling that this follow-up isn't what The Last Page deserved. Huso imagination seems limitless and I will still keep an eye open for what he comes up next.

Technically, I think that the Tor edition cover art isn't bad but it's mostly generic and aside from the zeppelins, isn't showing anything relevant about the book.  The hardcover edition stands at 445 pages and includes a nice enough map and a pronunciations guide.

Black Bottle review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


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