Review: “In the House of Leviathan,” B.D. Bruns

Pros: Fascinating locale and time period
Cons: Occasional word salad
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher via NetGalley.

 

B.D. Bruns’s In the House of Leviathan takes place in 1860s Amalfi, Italy. Giuseppe, whose nickname is Achilles, runs the family paper mill together with his younger sister (Carmelina) and older brother (Alessandro). Lucio is Carmelina’s boyfriend; he’s a fisherman, but wants to come to work at the paper mill. As does his older sister, Maria, who wants to catch the eye of Achilles. One of them finds a mysterious old letter in a pile of rags meant to become paper. Somehow, this triggers a series of killings and terrifying ‘natural’ events. Fishermen are running scared of whirlpools that go all the way to the bottom of the sea. Accidents start to happen at the mill–deadly ones. Achilles is no mystery-solver, but if he doesn’t solve this one he’ll lose everyone he loves.

 

Early on In the House of Leviathan has an almost Lovecraftian air to it. Historical is not my normal milieu, but here it totally worked. The town and its people were fascinating, the paper mill business was unusual and interesting, and–it just works. I love it. It made it easy to believe in miracles, saints… and the shade of a dead man.

I really only had one complaint. At the ends of some of the sections, a paragraph or so would devolve into ‘word salad’. One example reads:

The deafeningly within the curved stone amplify, repeat.

This wasn’t a one-off problem; it happened repeatedly. Small paragraphs got changed and rearranged badly enough that I couldn’t even guess at what was originally meant. However, I am reading an advance copy received through NetGalley. It’s possible that this is an artifact of an earlier version and that it might have been fixed before publication. Also, it only slightly detracted from the experience of reading the book since it didn’t happen often.

The story itself was great. A haunting amplified by a Lovecraftian shifting of the seas. I found plenty of action to be had, some of it in battling the fearsome seas; some in accosting the shade. I would have liked to see a little more about where the sea troubles came from, since it wasn’t clear to me that the ghost was responsible for that part.

The setting is highly visible and visceral. I felt as though I could see and feel everything very clearly in my mind’s eye. I found the paper mill processes highly fascinating, and enjoyed seeing the sort of village that emerges in such a region. The characters have some depth to them, and the plot was skillfully executed. By the end I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

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