Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mariah Mundi

Mariah Mundi: The Midas Box
by G.P. Taylor
Recommended Ages: 13+

In stark contrast to Harry Potter, we first meet orphan Mariah Mundi about to board the train away from the boarding school that he is leaving forever, to a job as a stage magician's assistant in a ritzy hotel. Before he even gets on the train, though, he is swept into an adventure littered with magical artifacts, dangerous creatures, sinister devices, chases through the sewers of a seaside village, and secret passages deep in the foundations of the steampunk Prince Regent hotel. It is a mystery involving jewel smuggling, murder, kidnapping, sorcery, the plundering of shipwrecks, a deck of cards that can tell the future, and a box that can turn anything placed in it to solid gold. It features monsters with snapping pincers, tentacles, fangs, and claws, as well as characters with such flamboyant names as Isambard Black, Perfidious Albion, and the shopkeeper Quadlibett.

I did make it all the way through this book, and enjoyed some of its weird goings-on. It had a surprise on every page, which is one of the things that made it hard going for me. At times I felt I was missing something. I couldn't quite get my head around the shape of the story. It seemed always to elude my grasp, from chapter titles that in some cases didn't make any sense to new principal characters being introduced after I thought all the pieces were in play. Leading characters' motivations seemed to change drastically within the duration of a single scene, and the point-of-view character is revealed at the end to have been keeping a big secret from us all along. But mostly, I was just kept wrong-footed by the sense that the story was running from oddity to oddity with only the sketchiest notion of an overall design.

The charm of the book, on the other hand, lies in its invention of strange scenery, dangerous and magical incidents, and Mariah's emergence toward the end as a key actor in the events rather than a confused spectator. The setting is captivating, and the characters are memorable, and the fate of a certain Kraken is even downright touching. I did get some of the references concealed in the names of people and places (such as the Trisagion Bar and the Great Bizmillah). Once it is finally revealed who the good guys and bad guys really are, there seems to be some promise for an entertaining series of sequels. But given my overriding impression that the whole concept was moving a bit too fast for my slow intellect, I wasn't surprised to learn that a movie adapted from this book was a commercial and critical failure. Like the labyrinth in the roots of the Prince Regent, this story has a shape an incautious visitor can get lost in.

This book is the first installment of a trilogy by Graham Peter Taylor, an Anglican vicar who lives in Yorkshire, England. Its sequels are Mariah Mundi and the Ghost Diamonds and Mariah Mundi and the Ship of Fools. Taylor has become very popular for his offbeat brand of fantasy chillers with a touch of Christian allegory, such as Shadowmancer and Wormwood and their sequels, the Doppel Ganger Chronicles and Vampyre Labyrinth trilogies, and the period detective thriller Jack D'Arc.

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