I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Metronome by Oliver Langmead
Published by Unsung Stories on January 17 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: A magical and thrilling adventure into the world of dreams.
It looks as if someone has attempted to build a clock but did not know when to stop. It is a cataclysm of clockwork parts in synchronized motion arranged in the shape of a frigate. The ship has no sails, barely any hull beyond a few lengths of wood along its flanks, and between brass and copper lengths of girders, I can see endless cogs and cables, whirring and winding and ticking in gentle motion. The whole thing just hangs there, impossibly, in the sky.
I realise that I have forgotten to breathe.
And Oliver Langmead has done it again! He wowed me a couple of years ago with his debut novel in verse Dark Star, so when I heard word of his latest, I immediately requested a review copy. Metronome is quite different from Dark Star, but they are both just as wonderfully written and imagined. This is a straight-up prose novel told in first person by one William Manderlay, an elderly gentleman living out his twilight years in a senior care facility. But Manderlay is about to go on a grand adventure—in his dreams, of all places. Yes, Metronome takes place mostly in the dreaming world, and although I usually balk at stories that revolve around dreams—they often feel vague and insubstantial to me, for some reason—I was delighted that this story completely captured my imagination. Langmead’s world of dreams felt more real than the waking world, as Manderlay unwittingly undertakes a breathtaking and dangerous adventure.
Manderlay often has vivid dreams that involve his late wife Lily and the rollicking adventures at sea of his youth (he was a sailor for many years). But one night his dream takes on a dark and sinister quality. He’s being chased by a nightmarish spider that appears to be made out of wood, when he runs into a man named March who saves him from the creature. March is a Sleepwalker, one of twelve people whose job it is to slay nightmares (they’re named after the months of the year). March is helpful and friendly, but a Sleepwalker named June isn’t as nice. When Manderlay meets her in a forest, she forces him at knife-point to hand over his precious journal, which is filled with the love songs he wrote for his wife. June knows the songs will lead her to a hidden prison called Solomon’s Eye, where she intends to set free a terrible nightmare.
March and Manderlay join forces with the crew of a marvelous air ship called the Metronome, as they race to beat June to Solomon’s Eye. But the world of dreams is often unpredictable, and their journey will take them on many adventures before they reach their destination.
Part steampunk pirate adventure, part quest, and part love story, Metronome surprised me by being not only a thrilling tale of adventure, but a deeply emotional story about a man’s relationship with his family. You might not think a man in his eighties makes for a good protagonist, but for some reason, it worked. This book reminded me at times of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which surprised me because the stories are nothing at all alike. But it was the thrill I got reading about their adventures on the Metronome, trying to stop the evil June before she frees the king of nightmares, and the magical quality of Langmead’s imagery that harkened back to my experience reading Pullman’s books.
Langmead’s dream world is almost like lucid dreaming. You can have a dream and then wake up, and much later go back into that same dream and continue where you left off. When you “wake up” someone in this world, you’re basically killing them. But the characters understand that even though they might be “woken up,” they’ll most likely come back the next time they fall asleep. It was a fascinating way of looking at dreaming, and I loved the way he brought the two worlds together.
One of my favorite things was the way Langmead used music in his story. Manderlay is a violinist, and in his younger days he used to play with the London Philharmonic. He carries his old violin into his dream with March, and the violin plays a small but important part in how the crew of the Metronome finds their way to Solomon’s Eye. The Metronome’s Captain Reid, a feisty and determined woman, uses Manderlay’s songs to forge a map that steers the Metronome in the right direction. I know it sounds odd, but trust me, it makes total sense when you read it. In fact, the entire story is infused with music, from the rhythmic ticking of the ship’s clocks, to the map room filled with musical instruments, to the love songs Manderlay wrote to his dead wife in a fever dream. I could practically hear the music while I was reading, and I wonder if there are any plans for an audio version of the book, which would be a great opportunity to incorporate real music into the tale.
But no matter how thrilling the story is, the real beauty of Metronome lies in the emotional lives of the characters. Manderlay drops hints about his past throughout the story, and little by little the reader learns about his wife Lily and their daughter Samantha. The entire story is colored by Manderlay’s relationship with his wife and his regret that he didn’t spend enough time with her. In fact, each character had a wonderful emotional depth which made me love them even more. I especially loved Captain Reid, who lives with a terrible guilt for something that happened in her past, and her hope is to fix things when she finally reaches Solomon’s Eye.
This was almost a five-star read for me, but I knocked off a half star for the pacing in the beginning of the story. The real story doesn’t start until about 30% in, when Manderlay and March join the Metronome and start their journey to Solomon’s Eye. Before that, it felt like there were a few false starts. Manderlay dreams and wakes several times before the action begins, and while it worked well for explaining Langmead’s take on the world of dreams, it was also a bit confusing. But once we find ourselves firmly planted in dream land, that’s where things really get exciting. If you’re a fan of adventure stories at sea, you’ll love this book. There are some jaw-dropping scenes aboard the Metronome as the ship is being attacked by June’s fleet. The action had me on the edge of my seat, and even though in the back of my mind I knew it was “just a dream,” I couldn’t help but fear for the characters’ lives!
There is a lot packed into these pages, but Langmead brings everything together in a way that makes perfect sense. The ending hit all the emotional notes I expect from a really great story, and yes, I’ll admit it made me cry. My advice? Grab a copy of Metronome as soon as possible and READ IT.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book