Review: Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner

Title: Nekropolis
Author: Tim Waggoner
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication date: August 2009 (UK & Australia); October 2010 (US & Canada)
My Rating: 4/10

Buy it at The Book Depository

The tale is classic detective noir – the beautiful blonde damsel is in distress and needs the help of the smart, hardass detective with personal issues and a repertoire of bad and very bad jokes. But the damsel is a vampire/human halfbreed, the detective is a zombie, and it’s all set in Nekropolis, a city in “a distant dark dimension” where all the evil creatures came to live when they got tired of being hunted and hated by the inhospitable humans of Earth.

As Nekropolis zombies go, Matt Richter is unique. He doesn’t eat brains, and he still possesses a mind and will of his own. He makes a living doing “favours” for people (for some reason he won’t admit to being a detective) so he’s made a lot of friends and a few dangerous enemies in Nekropolis.

Unfortunately, the spells preserving his dead body aren’t working like they used to, so if he doesn’t find a solution soon, he’s going to decay. Which is why he agrees to help Devona, the gorgeous half-vampire in a skin-tight dress. Her father is one of the powerful Darklords who rule Nekropolis, and Matt hopes that by helping Devona find the artefact that was stolen from her father’s collection, she can persuade him to restore Matt’s corpse.

The clock is ticking, not only because of Matt’s dilemma, but because today is the Descension, Nekropolis’s most sacred holiday, commemorating the day the Darkfolk came to Nekropolis. The streets are full of partying monsters and at the end of the day the Darklords will perform a magical ceremony to recharge the “shadowsun” Umbriel. Chances are the thief who stole the artefact will use it at the ceremony, so Matt and Devona have to solve the case before the night is through.

So, there are 3 strands to this plot

  1. The Mystery – who stole the priceless artefact called the Dawnstone and why?
  2. The Drama – will Matt find a solution for his rapid decay or will he soon be dead for good?
  3. The Romance – Matt’s developing feelings for Devona, but can a vampire love a zombie?

All three of these are boring.

The mystery is as straightforward as they come. The clue found at the scene of the crime allows Devona to guess immediately and correctly who the culprit is, so the next step is to track him down. Doing so reveals that this is not a simple case of theft but a conspiracy to claim power in Nekropolis, so Matt and Devona go from one place to the next in a dreadfully linear fashion to find out what the hell’s going on. There are no twists, no big surprises. Various dangers bare their teeth along the way, but it’s the kind of book where you know the main characters will be fine, so there’s no real tension. In most cases, Matt saves them by pulling something useful but unlikely out of his pocket, like a tub of expensive French glue with glitter in it.

Not that they come out of the fights unscathed. That might kill the drama. So not only is Matt threatened with permanent decay, he’s acquiring a collection of injuries that make him look progressively more disgusting.

Devona however, is lovingly concerned rather than repulsed, and she and Matt progress from never having met each other, to flirting, affection, “I’ve never felt like this before”, irrational jealousy and finally expressions of undying love, all in the single evening during which the plot takes place. Already it’s more nauseating than Nekropolis’s revolting assortment of monsters, but let’s not forget that Matt is a zombie. Call me provincial, but necrophilia is a big no-no in my book.

Anyway, the plot – why is it so boring? Because Nekropolis is not so much a story as a tour of the world and its creatures. Some of Matt and Devona’s encounters do little or nothing to forward the plot, serving instead to show off one of Waggoner’s inventive Darkfolk. And they’re worth a look – insectoid demons, genetically modified ‘lykes’ (lycans), Chihuahua/piranha crossbred vermin, a brothel owner whose gender changes every few minutes to name a fraction.

Also on display is Nekropolis’s ‘flesh-tech’ – organic technology such as the Mind’s Eye (a giant eye that relays transmissions straight to your brain, acting as a TV set), the handvox (a cellphone with an ear and a mouth) and laptops that “breathe, gurgle, and moan – especially when doing difficult tasks – and have even been known to burst blood vessels if asked to perform too many functions at the same time”.

But it’s overkill. There are too many characters, too many creatures, too many details, and it’s all compounded by the chaotic Descension Day celebrations which push the fantasy into dysfunctional overdrive. What initially seemed intense and interesting quickly became mundane. I also began to wonder how a society made up entirely of evil creatures could hold itself together.

On two occasions I felt as if I’d had reached the climax of the novel, but there were still plenty of places and creatures to see before I could get to the end. Consequently read the first half of the novel fairly quickly, and then took about a week to get through the rest although it’s a pretty easy read. If only Waggoner hadn’t been so overzealous with his world-building a put more of his effort and imagination into the story, this could have been really fun.

A sequel – Dead Streets – was published last year March in the UK and Australia, and is due to be released in the USA and Canada in March 2011.  And despite what I’ve said about Nekropolis, I’d read it. Why? Nekropolis had potential. It’s humorous in that bad joke kind of way, it’s gross in the morbidly fascinating way you keep poking at something that makes you go Eww! and I like detective characters like Matt – the hardass with a heart of gold. The world of Nekropolis is one I want to explore, just not at the expense of the story. So, Tim Waggoner, I’ll give you one more shot.


Buy Nekropolis at The Book Depository

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