Robert Boyczuk, 242 pgs, Chizine Publications, chizinepub.com, $18.95
Impossibly mature, recently orphaned 10-year-old Thomas spends much of Robert Boyczuk’s dark fantasy engaged in a kind of reverse-Dante: Boyczuk inventively posits a medieval world made up of a set of literal concentric spheres, and, using a series of gravity-driven celestial elevators, has our hero and his motley crew ascend through them in increasing order of (apparent) godliness. Only gradually do we realize that their dirty, Canterbury Tales-like slog is headed for exceedingly lofty things, in — note the title — all senses of the word.
In mapping the journey, Boyczuk has a merry pillage through all manner of source material, including Dickens (for the harrowing privation), Star Wars and Tolkien (for the mismatched pilgrims), A Canticle for Leibowitz (for the ecclesiastical post -apocalyptic feel), and the Bible (for, you know, God and stuff).
In parallel to Thomas’ physical quest, Boyczuk intends a psychographic transition, from credulous piety to grown-up scepticism. But his specific targets here are a little foggy. While Boyczuk is ticked at the church’s venal hypocrisy, he is clearly no atheist — God and his works are emphatically made real. That said, his Heaven and its denizens are feckless and detached and run-down. At the last minute he drops in an eco-message — the firmament is running out of water, sort of — which may reveal his ultimate preoccupation.
If the book has a weakness, it is its density. Boyczuk spends more time at world-building than plot construction, often throwing rules and concepts at us rather than characterization or narrative nuance, and as a result Book of Thomas can seem more textbook than novel. Still, we can forgive Boyczuk much. He writes like an angel, with great tactility and conviction, and largely avoids the po’-faced, over-earnest style and verbiage that can infect medieval-flavoured fantasy.
Frustratingly, the book ends with whiplash abruptness, after teasing a great war between church and Heaven. I’d guess that most readers will deal with their Thomas-interruptus by re-upping for Volume Two. (Paul Duder)