Drood by Dan Simmons is like stepping into a time machine. I could almost feel the cobblestones of London’s back alleys beneath my feet and smell the overpowering stench of raw sewage draining into the Thames.
In June of 1865, world-famous author Charles Dickens and his mistress were among the few survivors of a horrific train crash. Simmons manages to weave this real-life event into a compelling and terrifying tale of murder, jealousy, ancient Egyptian magic and mesmerism.
Drood is narrated by Dickens’ fellow author, friend and sometimes rival Wilkie Collins. A laudanum addict, Collins is an unreliable narrator at best. Three days after the accident at Staplehurst, Dickens relates the harrowing experience to Collins. At the center of his tale is a mysterious man named Drood; a disfigured, wraith-like creature who seemed to float back and forth amongst the dead and dying victims of the crash. Was he rendering assistance to these unfortunate souls or hastening their departure from this mortal coil?
Dickens becomes obsessed with finding Drood, and this search will lead him and Collins into a labyrinthine world hidden below London's poorest districts. The horrors that await them there will change both of the authors – and their friendship – forever. Collins begins to wonder if Dickens has simply gone mad from the trauma he endured at Staplehurst or if he has fallen under the mesmeric influence of Drood, a man rumored to have killed over 300 people.
Victorian London is masterfully depicted; the sights, sounds and even smells seem to come alive and add a rich sense of atmosphere to this dark story.
The first 100 pages of Drood were slow-going for me, but they established a framework that was essential and very rewarding later in the book. I never knew what to expect with this story, and the shocking ending left me re-evaluating virtually every conclusion I'd come to over the length of the book. While it's still very early in 2009, I can certainly see Drood as one of my favorite reads of the year.
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon
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