The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
9/10 — Brilliantly conceived and written supernatural/time travel story.
Tim Powers is my most recent favorite author. I first read (out of order) his Fisher King series of books: Last Call, Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather, in which the Western U.S. is revealed as a supernatural battleground under the thin veneer of reality. The Anubis Gates is an earlier work, spanning a wider variety of settings, from London to Egypt and back through time, but the same themes prevail, if the settings are of necessity somewhat less detailed.
The plot, in as much of a nutshell as I can fit it: an attempt to return the ancient gods of Egypt to power has fractured time somewhat, allowing a rich sponsor to take Professor Brendan Doyle and a party of guests back in time to hear a lecture by Samuel Coleridge. Of course, all does not go well, and Doyle soon finds himself stuck in early nineteenth century London, armed only with his knowledge of the era. Not only does he have to figure out how to survive in London itself, he soon has to contend with a body-switching werewolf, a sinister clown-like prince of beggars, and a mysterious organization that appears–for reasons he cannot divine–to want to kill him.
What I love about Powers’ writing is his mingling of the fabulous with the grittily real. His depiction of nineteenth century London is richly realized and eminently believable, from the way people treat beggars to the customs in public-houses. He presents life as it was, at least far beyond the point where I could quibble with it, and by weaving his supernatural world into the details of the real one, he gives it a similar credibility. Not only that, he has a tremendous imagination; more than once I found myself shaking my head and wondering “Where did he come up with that?” And all of the crazy things in his world work and mesh just as smoothly as the details of the “surface” world.
If you’ve never read Powers, The Anubis Gates is a great place to start. He inspires me to add detail to my worlds: what are people eating? What do they see as they walk from place to place? What are the little details that go just far enough below the surface to add texture to a world? He inspires me, too, to let my imagination run wild. I don’t think it can run along the same paths he does, but at the very least, he remains a reminder that those paths exist, a “here be dragons” on my creative map.