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Ink (The Book Of All Hours) by Hal Duncan

01/07/2009. Contributed by Phil Jones

Buy Ink in the USA - or Buy Ink in the UK

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pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 615 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US), ISBN: 1-4050-8853-4 530 page enlarged paperback. $15.95 (US), $19.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-48733-9 pub: Pan MacMillan. 615 page hardback. 17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4050-5209-2.

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Well the first thing I would strongly recommend is that you go away and read Hal Duncan's first book, 'Vellum'. No. Honestly if you don't you will be struggling to grasp what on earth is going on at the start of this book. You might do anyway, though. Especially if you found 'Vellum' a bit hard to handle. This is not in anyway an easy read and often challenging to grasp any thread of what is going on. Hal Duncan's style is, how shall we say freeform, chaotic, non-linear and deeply complex. Sort of 'what rulebook' technique of writing. So if you like neatly wrapped up and easy to follow perhaps now it would be a good idea to look elsewhere. There is a true mix of free-form writing fantasy, urban myth, Science Fiction, mythology and religion all mixed up in a bag of tricks that is Hal Duncan's books. So definitely not for the timid readers out there. This is like one of those multi-coloured cocktails when you've got to the bottom of your fourth one you're not sure where your head is at any more.

If you're still with us or you're a fan of the first book then the start will be somewhat familiar in style, like the end of 'Vellum' there is a flitting and restless feel to the writing. Jumping from one multiverse to another with characters re-appearing, exponentially occurring or being killed off. There are familiar characters, but Hal Duncan is not afraid of putting the whole thing, plot characters, direction and time in a blender and turning it onto full.

Well, as to what is going on as in well, a description I could just run away and hide in a corner. So what we've gotten is sort of like 'Vellum' but on steroids. This is much bigger and grander and a little bit scarier reading proposition. Hang onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Set a couple of decades after the events in the first book where we followed a young man who finds a remarkable book and another man who experiences a hate crime. We later find that they are both part of and in the book, The Book Of All Hours, pages made up of vellum on which the cast try to write, re-write or transcribe there own fate(s). We find out they are angels and there is a war going on between differing factions. Nanotechnology and dead souls have ripped the universe apart and our cast of characters are trying to repair what they can. There is no longer any sense to the universe. With differing folds of the vellum we get differing multiverses. Jack Flash is battling futurists and a small band of actors led by Reynard stages a sort of mystery play for Duke of Hell. A challenging and not very safe performance for the actors involved. They're ultimate mission to get the final draft of The Book Of All Hours and keep the rogue angels from cooking up their own god from the pages. We start to get the feeling that The Book Of All Hours is pivotal to the resolution and restoration of the universe as we go along. We build up to a final battle with Jack's aim that if he can't save the people in that reality then at least he should find the one where humans can survive.

So does this book wrap up and answer the rather and in a way thin plot of the first book? Grand and perhaps a bit overly ambitious it does lose its way and becomes overly messy and complex. I think this is the best you can expect from Hal Duncan. You certainly won't get it given to you on a plate. We start to see links and, through the myriad of tales and viewpoints, we get a glimpse of what perhaps is going on. We're still not totally sure who's stories to believe, but I think in balance we get an idea. This second half to the 'story' is dense and Hal Duncan's style is self-indulgent at times. There are scenes that make you laugh and also those that are quite disturbing. The book starts to focus down on the seven main characters from about the half-way point and becomes somewhat more focused and linear.

In two parts like 'Vellum', it's a heady mix of popular references. We get ancient Greek tragedy, a re-imagining of the Old Testament to name a few. There are so many layers and references that in parts are too complex to glean. What Hal Duncan does, though, is use a familiar voice which sorts of acts as a point of reference. 'Ink' is in some ways less chaotic and more about putting the puzzle pieces in place. In the end, it is less about restoring the universe and about a single man coming to terms with death. I think, especially toward the end of the book, fans of 'Vellum' will be satisfied with the outcome. An impressive work with an overwhelming level of innovation and through which sometimes is the book's downfall. This is a marmite book, you'll either love it or hate it, but it's a book definitely worth trying to read.

Phil Jones

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