The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
At the end of the Victorian period, Edward Moon is a stage magician and detective whose fame is fading away. Trying to restore his former glory, he and his assistant, the Somnambulist (fancy name for sleepwalker), get caught in a twisted, nightmarish mystery where nothing is quite what it seems. In a race against time, Moon will discover if he still has what it takes to bring truth to light and save London.
The Somnabulist is one of the strangest stories I have read in some time. It is a tale of bizarre and freaky characters, weird mysteries, and dark places. I could almost hear the creepy music playing in the background while reading. It felt like something out of a gothic Ripley's Believe it Or Not or Weird Tales or a lurid and bizarre dream.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about The Somnambulist. I can’t really say if I enjoyed it or not. Like many of my dreams, there are details that are brought up in the course of the story that you believe are important, but are never mentioned again. For instance, it is hinted that the main character (which isn’t even the Somnambulist by the way) is a mind reader, but aside from one instance early on, it is never mentioned again. Even the ending had that dream-like quality of not resolving many of the mysteries in the story.
However, despite what I have said so far, The Somnambulist is one of those stories that you cannot stop reading. Even with the perceived flaws, you have to continue on just so you can find out the ending. That is the mark of good writing. The cleverest part of the book is the reveal near the end on who the narrator of the book actually is. Not something I expected at all. And it is moments like that that are really the best part of this story—the unexpected twists and hints that keep you intrigued, pushing you to finish the story. Just like a dream, you never know what is going to happen.
As a side note, there are many book lists that group The Somnabulist with the steampunk genre, but I would hesitate to put it there as there is only one Frankenstein moment in the entire story. I found it to be more a gothic and horror tale.