As the saying goes, you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but having an fantastic cover art certainly helps. Dream London by Tony Ballantyne has one of those covers that you will remember for a very long time. Probably the most exciting cover art artist today, Joey Hi-Fi, has done it again, producing one of those pieces of cover art, you'll wish to have super-sized on your wall. However, does latest publication by Solaris Books delight in the same way?
Tony Ballantyne is not a new name in the field of science fiction, having published much loved Twisted Metal and it's sequel Blood and Iron, as well as the Recursion Trilogy. However, Dream London sees Ballantyne moving away from the classic high-powered science fiction he's known for into the territory that is best described these days as new weird. With a story that is heavily reminiscent of London works by Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, Dream London delves deep into the supernatural aspects of the London, in a book that is ultimately a successful mash-up of various genres, ranging from gritty fantasy to a classic adventure tale.
Dream London is not completely unlike the London we know but Ballantyne sets the stage at a point where the city itself changes a little every night and it's residents change a little every single day. We follow the story of Captain Jim Wedderburn, a rapscallion with looks, style and courage. Beloved by women, at the beginning Captain Wedderburn is an arch-typical hero, respected by men and feared by his enemies. Soon he embarks on an adventure to find out what is really happening and what is making London to become the way it is today. As the events unfold, the multi-layered nature of the novel rears it's head and even Jim is changed, starting to question the aspects of his life and himself that he, so far, took for granted. His character is shifting from being a hero to anti-hero and back. This spreads to everything in the book, including the city of London as an entity. So for example, the entire book is filled with recognizable London's landmarks which are just a little bit different, making the feeling of weirdness even more pronounced. It's like the reality itself is shifted to one side by few degrees.
Dream London is a very refreshing and innovative novel which is bursting at the seams with excellent storytelling and exciting plot turns. Ballantyne has successfully created immersive atmosphere which keeps reader helplessly hooked, while at the same time pushing the story forward. Brilliant and, for me, completely unexpected novel.