Bingo 15 (Far and Away)
What makes The Grand Dark so interesting is that there’s a lot of recognizable elements to it, but at the same time it’s so very much not reality. Overall, this is a creepy but intriguing world because bits are familiar, but then the rest is either too vague or too unnatural. That’s what makes the whole thing, the setting and the story, something you recognize and at the same time really different- the unfamiliar familiar. It’s also a world apart from Kadrey’s other stuff, namely the Sandman Slim and Another Coop Heist series, both of which are hyped up genre parody/salutes which are lots of fun. Not that this isn’t a good read, but it’s not a recognizable, real setting or world with a few tweaks; it’s something else.
The setting is the city of Lower Proszawa, an urban center in some vaguely Germanic seeming place that may or may not be based on anywhere real after some sort of catastrophic Great War which may itself be based on something real but the details are sketchy. The lives of the people seem reminiscent of Jazz Age America (which this is certainly not but kinda could be) in that the main character Largo is a hard-working bicycle delivery guy who works at a company seemingly vaguely based on UPS (or not). Largo is blue-collar but not so bad off that he can’t occasionally make a decent showing with his girlfriend’s artsy Gatsby-esque pals. Remy (the girlfriend) is a puppet actress at the Grand Dark Theatre, and sometimes the plays seem to predict actual events.
Largo’s life slowly starts to change when he’s offered a promotion at work, and eventually he starts to realize that there might be some ugly truths hidden in his society, some maybe closer than he thinks. The vague suspicions of unseen danger suddenly get real when Remy first gets a little sick, and then disappears. Largo is charged with her kidnapping, and his determination to rescue the woman he really does love takes him to all sorts of places that don’t seem to really exist anywhere, and in High Proszawa the people seem not entirely human in some ways. In addition to sort of being on the run from the law (it gets complicated), Largo also has to worry about the Nachtvogel, a mysterious but powerful secret police-like organization, and then there’s the constant threat of the uncurable Drops (a strange and fatal illness), and maybe some kind of revolution in the works. There’s also drugs that Largo (and plenty of other people as well) use which don’t seem to be terribly legal but also pretty easy to acquire.
Largo has some friends who he realizes are real friends, he meets new people some of whom are good and others not, he realizes that some people he knows are actually pretty bad, and generally goes through some very quick but fairly thorough changes himself. He’s almost too perfect for being an underdog hero.
My one complaint is that it takes a long while for things to get moving. Remy doesn’t disappear until over halfway into the novel, and really everything until that point is world-building. The focus on the world also includes these brief excerpts from “outside sources” that don’t really seem to fit into the main narrative; I admit I started to skim those bits. In spite of these smaller bugs, this is a good book. It’s different from the author’s other works, so don’t expect this to be Slim or Coop, but it’s still an unrealistic reality which seem to be kinda Kadrey’s trademark. This is probably a stand-alone; more would ruin the vague-ness, which really is a part of the whole style of the book. If you’ve tried Kadrey’s other work and didn’t enjoy it, maybe this one would be the one that you can enjoy. I wasn’t sure at first, but in the end I’m glad to have read this one.