Friday, 26 February 2010

Bernice Summerfield: The Infernal Nexus

After three novels that are each entertaining in their own way, the Bernice Summerfield book range has appeared both strong and consistent, but broken very few boundaries. That changes with the introduction of Dave Stone and his creation Jason Kane, in the de facto sequel to the oddball short story from the collection ‘The Door Into Bedlam’. For the first time in the range everything, literally, is up in the air. Dave Stone has created a world within which anything can happen.

Although he has not appeared as such until now Jason Kane’s shadow has hung over the Bernice range like an ugly smell. His image was important to the plot of ‘Doomsday Manuscript’, but the only significance of that it had to be someone close to Bernice. In ‘The God’s of the Underworld’ one of Bernice’s many aims, besides staying alive, is finding someone who allegedly knew the location of Jason, and she eventually found what she was looking for but still got nothing. And then in ‘The Squire’s Crystal’ references to him pop up again and again, as Jac Raynor tackles many issues close to Bernice’s heart. That he finally puts in an appearance is fulfilment after ages of expectation.

Expectation that Dave Stone couldn’t possibly meet. Could he?

There literally isn’t time for the fallout of such a titanic reunion with the inclusion of everything else happening in this mad novel. Look at the cover if your curious, it may look strange but actually it perfectly fits the contents. The closest I can compare this to is Douglas Adams, but Dave Stone approaches it with far less dry humour and enough of a cynical eye and steroids to not just cross, but speed over the line that Adams drew. It’s a crazy, knowingly ridiculous world he crafts full of counter arguments and impossibilities, that exists solely because it wants to. There is no rhyme or reason here, just madness.

Volan Sleed is certainly a menacing demon, but strangely it’s the characters like Mae An T’zhu who seem far more threatening, just because they may have sexual designs on Jason. Once the bad guys are revealed they become safe, because the lines are drawn, but there are still an assembled cast of characters who just don’t care if Bernice gets her husband home or not. That coupled with the journey of redemption of Suzi II, and the pig headed Mora Di Vasht give the story enough humanity to create drama and characters the reader can invest in.

The Infernal Nexus is not a perfect novel, and admittedly like its predecessors isn’t too proud to borrow good ideas from other mediums, and the writing definitely at time struggles under its own weight. Yes sentences are overlong and there’s far too much going on, it is full of distraction and self contradictions, but it is a bold statement that stands out. By being so deliberately utterly mad, yet so grounded in the ‘love-hate’ relationship between Bernice and Jason, it feels just right. And yes, you do get the payout in that glorious final scene in the bar, and not just from this novel, but from the Squire’s Crystal as well. Payout at last.

And then gloriously in the epilogue the entire plot is repeated, spelled out clearly in case anyone missed it happening with all the confusion the first time around. Only this time rather than as a mad science fiction caper, it’s in the synopsis of a porn film.

How perfect is that?

8 / 10

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