For years, I have represented myself as a huge Tim Powers fan. I will readily tell anyone who asks me about my literary tastes that one of my all-time favorite novels is The Anubis Gates, a book so tightly constructed that one could poke it in one place, and the whole thing will jiggle like a jello mold. Seriously, get your hands on a copy of this book NOW... I really should post a review of the book one of these days, I'm due to re-read it.
Other Powers books that I have enjoyed immensely are The Stress of Her Regard, a tale of destructive supernatural muses, and Declare, a supernatural thriller that reads like a "straight" take on the subject of Charles Stross' "Laundry" novels. I have also enjoyed On Stranger Tides, the mother of all supernatural pirate novels and The Drawing of the Dark, a historical fantasy romp in which **SPOILER** and **SPOILER** defend Vienna from a Turkish sorceror in order to protect a magical batch of **SPOILER**.
While portraying myself as a Powers fan, there has been one vexing lacuna in my appreciation of his oeuvre... I had never read Dinner at Deviant's Palace, his postapocalyptic take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. I finally got my hands on a copy of the book, and it is classic Powers (albeit a SciFi/Fantasy, not a historical fantasy). In typical Powers fashion, the protagonist is a sympathetic character with a lost love who is put through some serious physical punishment in the course of the book... Powers loves to knock the hell out of his protagonists. The hero of Dinner at Deviant's Palace is a professional musician that undertakes harrowing liberation/deprogramming missions to rescue the abductees of a sinister cult. The milieu of the novel is an "after the bomb" Los Angeles metropolitan area, with Venice being portrayed as a particularly horrific hellhole, centered on the eponymous evil nightclub:
Though in his years in Venice Rivas had prided himself on being a particularly wild, nothing-to-lose young man, boating by moonlight down canals sane people shunned even at noon and participating in several foolish duels, he had taken care never to venture within blocks of Deviant's Palace. But the stories he'd heard about the place still colored his nightmares: stories of fantastic towers and spires that threw dark stains on the sky, so that even at noon stars could be seen twinkling around the warped rib-cage architecture of its upper levels; of nonhuman forms glimpsed weeping in its remoter windows; of what creatures were sometimes found dying in the canals that entered the place through high arches, and what things these creatures sometimes said; of wooden gargoyles writhing in splintery agony on rainy nights and crying out in voices recognized by passersby as those of departed friends... The place was supposed to be more a nightclub than anything else, and Rivas remembered one young lady who, after he'd impatiently broken off their romance even more quickly than he'd instigated it, had tearfully told him that she was going to get a waitress job at Deviant's Palace. He had never permitted himself to believe that she might really have done it, in spite of the evening when a walruslike thing that a gang of fishermen had netted and dragged to shore and were butchering by torchlight rolled its eyes at him and with its expiring breath pronounced the pet name she'd always called him ...
Powers' "Ellay" is a setting in which a flashy mode of transportation is an old Chevy body mounted on a horse-drawn wagon, antique pistols retrofitted to fire poisoned darts are fashion accessories for rich women, and money has such denominations as fifths, half-pints, and jiggers. The use of language is up to Powers' high standard, with a lot of "oh, shit!" moments as the reader has a flash of comprehension- for instance, the seemingly innocuous sentence "Why don't you go home and just deal with things you know something about, sport?" is an insult sufficient to provoke a duel. A couple of classic Powers touches pop up here and there in the narrative- the malevolent floating horrors known as hemogoblins remind this reader of a particularly memorable creepy floating horror in The Anubis Gates, and a "translation" of Ovid's Metamorphoses by William Ashbless to open up Book Two (as far as I got in the book) had me bursting out with laughter.
While I haven't finished the book, I know that I am hooked because one of my first inclinations was to grab a map of the Los Angeles metropolitan area so I could place the narrative in a better geographic context (I got your number "San Berdoo"). As far as the postapocalyptic speculative fiction genre goes, the book stakes out a mid-point between the serious-yet-with-comedic-touches A Canticle for Leibowitz and the gonzo "mutants with telepathic powers" fantasy Hiero's Journey- though it has to be said that the religion depicted in Dinner at Deviant's Palace is a far cry from the civilization-preserving churches of those novels.
Yeah, I was done with living a lie, so I finally picked up Dinner at Deviant's Palace. Finally coming clean with my appalling lapse is as sweet as Currency Brandy. I apologize to any readers (and you know who you are) who might have thought that I was conversant with the work... and I swear I didn't read this Boing Boing blurb before getting the book. If I had, I probably would have paid a lot more than I did for my copy.