Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner – review

June 13, 2011
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nekropolis tim waggoneri Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner   reviewTwo reviews in two days? You can tell it’s a long weekend. Yesterday was the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides. This time it’s a novel, Nekropolis, by Tim Waggoner. I’d heard rumblings here and there about this book and it kept cropping up in People Who Bought This Book Also Bought lists, so I thought I’d finally give it a go.

It’s the story of Matt Richter, a dead ex-policeman. He’s now a zombie and in serious danger of rotting away to nothing. He lives in Nekropolis, the city of the Darkfolk. The basic idea behind the location is that all the vampires, lycanthropes and other monsters got sick and tired of being persecuted by humans, so the most powerful among them created a city in a paralell dimension. It’s the shape of a pentagram, Father Dis manages the whole thing while five Darklords are each responsible for one section. Imagine a pentagram and you’ll get the idea. Each section has a different vibe based on its darklord – lycanthropes in one section, death in another, and so on. The idea that the darkfolk left as they were sick of persecution is a bit rich – after all, they’re persecuted because they eat people – but that aside, it’s a cool way to have a paralell world of creepiness and weirditude while still being able to reference Earth. Matt Richter is an Earth cop who went to Nekropolis on the trail of a murderer. While there he was killed, zombified and he’s stayed there ever since, being a kind of private detective for the dark and undead population. In this book he’s drafted in by half-human, half-vampire Devona to help her out. She guards the collection of magical artefacts collected by Lord Galm, her father and one of the five Darklords. One particular artefact has gone missing and she needs to find it before Galm discovers it’s gone and shit hits the fan.

So we have a classic noir detective thriller, with a pretty girl, a missing thing and various nefarious subplots, but it’s all wrapped up in the gloriously weird environment of Nekropolis.

Waggoner does a great job building the world and feeding us information about how it works and how it came to be. We learn more about Matt Richter and how he came to be the way he is. Nekropolis really is a richly detailed and populated setting. It reminded me of a Tim Burton film, especially as there’s a distinct thread of humour throughout. It could easily have been all very dark and horrifying, but Waggoner treats the denizens of Nekropolis like the population of anywhere else and draws a fair amount of black comedy from the conceit. I couldn’t help seeing the place as a Tim Burton/Henry Selick type production, all in stop motion animation like The Nightmare Before Christmas. In some places the author tries almost too hard to make things as weird as possible, but on the whole it all works very well.

The plot itself is something of a story by numbers – you can see from the setup how the thing will play out in the big picture and there’s the expected movement of the characters through all the major areas of Nekropolis that have been alluded to. There are standard set pieces and even at one point a bad guy giving the whole monologue while the good guys engineer their escape thing, which was a bit of a shame. But on the whole the story was a good noir detective yarn and I didn’t pick the details of how it all worked out. I kept reading and I wanted to know what happened. There were enough surprises and twists along the way too, which drew away from the somewhat formulaic plot, and the setting was often distraction enough.

In places I found the writing a little bit too explanatory. We really didn’t need reminding that Matt was a zombie, therefore dead, every single time he alluded to any kind of emotion or physical sensation, for example. It got really tiresome. But those kind of writing related niggles were very superficial and on the whole the book read very easily and carried me along just as good fiction should. But that brings me to the editing. I know this isn’t the fault of the author, or a problem with the story, but the editing in this one was atrocious.

I’ve read a lot of indie and self-published work and one of the things the indie crowd are always going on about is quality editing. When a book is full of typos and stuff, it devalues the whole experience and also makes it stand out from trad published work. But this is not a self-published book. This is from Angry Robot, a publisher that I have enormous respect for and love the stuff they publish. Hell, I’d love to be published by Angry Robot! But the editor on this job needs to seriously improve his game.

Let me give you some examples of what I’m getting at. There were loads, and I mean LOADS, of missed words. There were numerous examples of misspelled words, things like -ed missing off the end of words that should have been past tense, things like “nearly” when the word should have been “nearby” and so on. In one scene, that was only a few pages long, one incidental character had his name spelled three different ways in two pages! There are always typos in books – I know that my novel, RealmShift, has a bad typo on the second page (taught instead of taut – GAH!) and we accept that it’s going to happen. But this book was riddled with them. And then there were editing errors like one scene where a lamb became a goat with no explanation and stuff like that. I would normally look past this stuff – I’ve been an editor as well as a writer and I know how hard it is to get everything, even when you have a whole team of people on board. There will always be typos. But this one went a bit beyond the pale. Incidentally, I read the Kindle edition, but that shouldn’t matter – the source file should be the same for all editions.

But let’s move on. Nekropolis is a clever and entertaining noir mystery, set in a truly imaginative world that kept me entertained from start to finish. It’s not a world-breaking novel, but it’s darn good fun and I enjoyed it a lot. 3 Stars.

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2 Responses to Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner – review

  1. Nathan Russell on June 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Good review, I am intrigued enough to give this a look, despite the typos. On a (fairly) recent episode of Writing Excuses it was mentioned that the process of converting a document to ebook format can cause crazy errors such as letter substitution and worse (I won’t pretend I understand why). The basic advice was that a text needs to be thoroughly edited both before and after the ebook conversion – I wonder if this book missed the second edit.

  2. alan on June 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Yes, quite possibly. Especially if the document was converted from InDesign. Regardless, some of the errors in this one are clearly source document errors, so the first edit was poor, let alone the second! But that’s not enough to spoil an otherwise worthwhile read.

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