Friday, April 12, 2019

Lamplighter By D. M Cornish

By D. M Cornish

Lamplighter is the second novel in the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M Cornish. It was originally slated for publication in 2007 but for reasons I was unable to uncover was pushed back to 2008. Once published it was nominated for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. I covered the first book last year in October so I won't retread ground but if you're interested in learning about D.M Cornish or the publication of the series, I'll leave a link to the last review. Right now, let us turn to the novel in question.

Lamplighter takes place on the Half-Continent, where the greatest and most powerful nation is the Haacobin Empire. The Empire is a state that is caught between a feudal past and a the idea of a modern, rational state, where semi-independent city states, duchies and princedoms all feud and claim ancient rights; emerging technologies and strange alchemical learning have led to the development of new devices and enhancements to the human body and to human industry. However, humanity is also locked into conflict with Monsters, creatures that are neither natural beasts or humans. Many of them are sapient although none of them appear to have created a tool using civilization. Most monsters appear to view humans has only a fairly chatty food source. Add in greater strength, speed, usually an array of natural weapons and the ability to work together in large numbers when they feel like it and you begin to question how humanity even survived long enough to reach the city building stage. On top of this, it seems the Monsters have some sort of effect on the land itself. Lands that are heavily populated by Monsters developed a phenomenon called the Threwd, in which people feel an awareness in the land itself. Usually, a hostile one that in powerful instances can drive humans mad with fear and paranoia. Because of the dangers real and imagined humanity, for the most part, has reacted with a xenophobic rage towards monster kind, working to clear them from whatever lands humanity possesses. To be honest I can see how that developed when you have a situation where entire families are disappearing in the night and are afflicted with a constant low-grade dread while you're simply trying to maintain a farm... You're not going to very open to the idea of peaceful co-existence or to the people who suggest it may be possible.

In this grim but changing world Rossamund Bookchild, a child of unknown family and origin strives to find his place and to form his own beliefs about the world around him. The last book, Foundling covered Rossamunds journey from his childhood home to the fortress of Winstermill to begin his career as an imperial lamplighter. This book covers his training and first posting as a Lamplighter. Let's explain what that is first. Most of the Empire is held together by imperial waterways which are faster and safer to travel, as rivers are fairly easy to keep monster free by the use of dams and canals and other such things. However not everywhere is reachable by river and there are only so many boats to go around. So tying together the rest of the Empire is a system of Imperial Highways, in an effort to make them safer for the poor souls who must travel them and they are lit by great lamps using Bloom, a type of plant that glows in the dark. Lamplighters tend the lamps, lighting them at sunset and by caring for the Bloom and mechanism of the lamps themselves during the day. They also serve as road-guards garrisoning small forts and strongholds across the Empire to try and maintain some level of safety for overland travelers. It's a harsh, lonely life at times and given that many of them are stationed in out of the way places where Monsters can set upon them without warning, it's a way of life with a high amount of casualties. Which at least means there's always openings for new blood I suppose.

Of course Rossamund's adventurers in the first book led to him arriving a bit late and gaining the nickname of Mister Come Lately (at least it isn't something about him having a girl's name) along with him being one of the smaller apprentices in his platoon means he's starting with a pretty steep uphill climb here. To make matters worse Rossamund finds himself being pulled into the murky world of politics, as factionalism within the Lamplighters ranks rears its nasty head. The newly appointed Master of Clerks is pushing to expand his power throughout the ranks and has brought with him a slew of supporters such as the surgeon Grotius Swill. As Rossamund finds evidence that Swill might be involved in forbidden dark arts, such as the creation of Reaver Men (artificial monsters made using the parts of human corpses for the most part), he now has to fend off powerful enemies in an arena he has neither the education or experience to operate in. Further complicating his life is the arrival of Threnody, a young lady from the clave Right of the Pacific Dove, who has decided to become the first woman lamplighter.

Let me talk about what the Right of the Pacific Dove is before I discuss the young lady herself. Throughout the Empire, there are all female societies known as Calendars, who provide fighters and social services. They do things like protect the poor from monsters, provide protection to women who need to flee their homes and campaign for social justice. They're known for dressing colorfully and running about doing heroic deeds. Threnody has the misfortune of being the only child of the August (the leader) of this group of Calendars and as such her Mother has mapped out and planned her entire life for her. As you can guess that means Threnody's biggest concern is thwarting her Mother's will as much as humanly possible and fighting for every choice she can get. She hasn't been doing so well on that front. She was forced to undergo the surgeries to become a Lahzar, which is a human being who has been enhanced to fight monsters. In Threnody's case, she was made into a Wit, which is someone who has the ability to send out mind scrambling signals which can put down men and Monsters. Of course, she's not very good at it yet and there tends to be a bit of friendly fire when she gets involved. Given how new she is at it and the fact that her body is still adjusting from the experience of having foreign organs shoved into it to give her superpowers, well it would be a miracle if she wasn't a bit lacking in control. Threnody is a very bitter and at times self-important young woman and honestly, I can understand why she isn't given control over her own body but is treated as a mere extension of her Mother's will. Her mother leads a society that preaches greater justice and rights for individuals; and while that hypocrisy is never directly confronted in the book, it hovers over Threnody's character like a cloak and dictates a lot of her responses to the world around her. She is told she is better and more important than others and has a duty to fight for their safety and rights. Because she isn't just a young woman but the heir to a title and the future leader of a society of fighters. However, she is constantly prevented from exercising the very things that she is pressured to provide other people and that isn't going to make for a sweet personality. Threnody has however managed to win the right to join the lamplighters and thus escape a bit from her Mother's authority and in the doing become friends with Rossamund. Threnody isn't the only lady taking an interest in Rossamund however as Europe the Lahzar with the ability to toss around electricity is also hanging about looking to convince Rossamund to leave the lamplighters and come work for her. Europe's role in this story is changed from her last appearance, as she works to provide mentoring and protection to Rossamund despite his belonging to a group that holds her at arms distance.

Foundling, the first book in the series was about Rossamund leaving his childhood home and learning how to function in an adult world that is dangerous and a lot grayer then he expected. Lamplighter is about Rossamund learning how to function as a young man among his fellows and how to operate within society. For most of the book, Rossamund is learning how to fit into the society of the lamplighters and be a good contributing member of that society. Even if he doesn't agree with all the opinions of that society, because his experiences have taught him to have empathy for the Monsters that Mankind is locked into battle with. That empathy is what causes conflict with him and the lamplighter society at large because honestly, the lamplighters can't really afford empathy for Monsters in most situations. At the same time, their xenophobia is creating enemies that they don't need. What I like about this, is that the conflict isn't that humanity just needs to learn to accept Monsters and stop being scared of them. There is a real and good reason to be afraid of the things sniffing at your locked and armored door in the dead of night and offering your hand to any monster can lead to that limb being torn off. I do think the best end would be to find a way for at least some Monsters and humanity to live in peace but I'll admit I'm not very sure how you could accomplish that. Both sides need space to live and their ways of life are so dramatically opposed. Mr. Cornish does a good job of presenting this conflict from the ground up and letting his readers make their own judgments, while also presenting a depth of worldbuilding and character development that can stand toe to toe with such writers as Bakker, Cameron, Leckie or even the old heavyweights like Tolkien or Howard. I have to admit I find myself both looking forward to the last book and disappointed that Mr. Cornish has only written one more novel in this world. Lamplighter by DM Cornish gets an A.

Next week, we reach back to the past to review Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.  This book was also selected by my supporters on Patreon, if you would like to help choose future reviews or even make suggestions, then join us at where a vote for what books I'll review next book only cost a 1$. As always I also welcome your comments below and of course, Keep Reading.

You can also catch my review of Foundling here.

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