Gormenghast on the river Anhk…

One of my favourite series of books, written it is no coincidence by the late great Terry Pratchett, are the Discworld novels, in particular, the novels that centre around perhaps his greatest creation, the city of Anhk-Morpork. Not least this is because the city of Ankh-Morpork itself is as much a character in his novels as the likes of Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Death, Susan, Nobby Nobbs and all the rest. It is a city that sits like a spider at the centre of a web, feasting on all. A city of a million souls, and probably a couple of million people… A city I know as well, or perhaps even better, than any city in the real world I have ever trod around. From The Shades, to the Patricians place, to the mended drum, the street of Small Gods, to the low doorways of Short Street. It is a city that has seeped into my DNA, I could read about it endlessly, and have.

On the other side of the literary coin are the gothic towers and sprawling mass of Melvin Peakes the castle and inhabitants of Gormenghast. A series of novels which I have always wanted to love, and have tried to read on more than one occasion. My old battered omnibus edition of all three novels has been picked up and started so many times it almost took up permanent residence upon my bedside table in the ’90s because it was a series I should love. It has everything I could want, everything Anhk-Morpork has, a gothic setting full of characters and ideas that are grotesque, strange and more than a little rum and uncanny. As I say, I have always wanted to love them… Yet somehow, I never do. It has a lot to do with Peakes overly literary style, perhaps because I was raised on pulp fictions and to a degree because a three-page descriptive passage about a single cobweb leaves me cold… Indeed it could be said, with a great deal of truth, that I love everything about Gormenghast but the novels themselves…

So there you have it, two sides of a literary coin, both much-praised works of inventive genius. Yet my personal take on them could not be more different. Regardless of this, it is the places that leave the strongest impression. For all Pratchett wonderful characters, it is the stage of the great city of the So-lat plains that makes them live in the imagination. Just as the dusty looming towers and broken battlements of Gormenghast transcend the unfortunate fact that Peake’s style leaves me cold. I love a good setting, the strangeness and wonder of these places. I only wish Peake’s style was less arid, and unwieldy, a little closer to Pratchett’s perhaps, or at least less Peake… I want to explore the setting, I just want to enjoy doing so at the same time. Which brings me, in my own round-about and occasionally, languid way to another strange and wonderful gothic monstrosity of a city Craig Hallam’s Greaveburn, a city with much in common with both Anhk-Morpork and Gormenghast. A city populated by those same grotesque, strange, rum and uncanny characters you get in both.


Greaveburn, like Peake’s Gormenghast, is a world onto itself. An isolated gothic landscape where the richest and poorest lead very different lives, and everyone else sinks somewhere in the middle. There are murders and macabre goings-on from the highest to the low and events all conspire so they become entwined. Every character, be they a minor role of a major player is realised in intricate detail. All with shades of grey, some quite lightly, other with dark shadows on their soul than others. The heroes have shades of villain about them, while some villains have the odd moment of heroism. All human life is here, realised with all its flaws, against a backdrop with a character all of its own. It is very Gormenghast, and not a little Anhk-Morepork, but while the setting and the characters lend much of the former, the writing leans more to the latter. This is Gormenghast without the dry relentless descriptions of cobweb strewn corridors that go on longer than it would take to dust those same corridors.

Greaveburn reads like the city and its inhabitance are alive, rather than some shambling undead parody of life. The characters live and breath on the pages, be they villains or heroes, or those endless shades in-between. It is strange, but it is beautifully strange. It’s grim but gorgeously so. It’s dark, but there is light enough for the shadows to dance in narrow alleyways and secretive snickets. Not everyone gets what they want, not everyone gets what they deserve, but what the reader gets is what they need. A world to sink into, feel in your bones and dwell in the dark corners of your mind. A world that leaves you with many questions, but that is also as it should be because this is a story of a city, and no city tells all its secrets. It leaves you wanting more but isn’t that exactly what it should do.

In case your wondering. Just on the off chance, you’ve not picked up on it, I’ve told you very little, save that I could wonder these streets again and again because I think you should visit the city yourself, dear reader. I can promise you won’t regret it… Well, you might, but only if you lack a readers soul and a love of the shadows in the dark…

Have a read yourself…



I have reviewed some of Criags Hallam’s other books, you can find those reviews by clicking on the links in the Indieomacon here…

Craig is also one of the writers in both of the current Harvey Duckman Volumes, like myself you can find out about them here…   

This entry was posted in amreading, book reviews, books, Canadian steampunk, fiction, goodreads, Goth, horror, humour, indie, indie novels, IndieApril, indiewriter, insomnia, Lovecraft, mythos, Nyarlathotep, Passing Place, pointless things of wonderfulness, reads, rites, sci-fi, steampunk, supernatural and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s