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Literature / The Somnambulist

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Surely I am coming soon—Revelation 22:20

"Be warned. This book has no literary merit whasoever. It's a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, people by unconvincing characters, written in dreadfully pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and willfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you'll believe a word of it.
The Narrator
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Jonathan Barne's debut novel, The Somnambulist is a Gothic Horror Fantasy set in the late Victorian period. The story follows washed-up magician and amateur detective, Edward Moon, as well his companion, The Somnambulist, on their journey to solve their first truly big case in quite some time. What seems to start out as a simple murder, however, is soon revealed to be part of a larger conspiracy that could destroy all of London. There also also several subplots, including a top secret organization known as The Directorate, Edward's sister, his former pupil, as well as a man who lives backwards in time, and is hinted to be the first king of London. Only some are explained in detail. A sequel, The Domino Men, was published a few years later.


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This novel provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Moon is either a Type II or III
  • Anyone Can Die: Not counting Honeyman or Dunbar, there are a staggering amount of casualties in this book: The Human Fly, Mr. Skimpole, The Somnambulist, Arthur Barge and Mrs. Puggsley, just to name a few.
  • The Apprentice: Barabbas was this to Edward
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Edward, a stage magician, is awfully dismissive of mediums.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Yiangou, as well as the "Chinamen" working for the Directorate.
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  • Back from the Dead: The reanimated Coleridge.
  • Bald of Awesome: The Somnambulist is starkly bald, but his pride has him wear a wig when in public.
  • Bar Brawl: The fight in the opium den is a minor example.
  • Batman Gambit: Like you wouldn't believe. And for possibly the stupidest reason such a gambit has been enacted. Incompetence causes you to dig yourself into the sewers while trying to rob a bank and you get caught by Moon. Obviously the solution to heal your wounded ego is start a cult, stage an elaborate setup of murders, ruin an entire section of London's secret service, resurrect a dead man a la Frankenstein and launch an assault on the city.
  • Big Bad: Reverend Dr. Tan/The Narrator
  • Big Fancy House: Edward and the Somnambulist go to a few parties where these take place.
  • Bigger Bad: Though they don't really fit in with the main conflict, the Prefects are a bigger threat and (arguably) do more damage than Reverend Dr. Tan could have done.
  • Bigger Is Better: The Somnambulist. And how.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The forces of Pantisocracy are beaten and Dr. Tang is arrested. However, the Somnambulist is dead, Charlotte, Grossmith and Speight are Pantisocrats, leaving Edward with no one but Dr. Tang to talk to. Add in the high body count left in the wake, as well as the fact that the Prefects are still on the lam...
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: ALMOST Everyone who goes up against the Somnambulist ends up regretting it instantly.
  • Cyanide Pill: An assassin sent to kill Dedlock and Skimpole uses one.
  • Evil Plan: Left ambiguous for much of the story. It's revealed near the end that the Reverend Dr. Tan wishes to kill most of London's population in order to start over and reclaim the country for the ideals of Pantisocracy.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: The Prefects say this about Skimpole
  • Foreshadowing: Several examples, the most notable being the references to the criminal digging his way into the sewer.
  • Genre-Busting: It's a fantasy/Gothic horror/mystery/black comedy.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Edward Moon is definitely one of the book's smarter characters, although it's hard to tell if he's smarter than The Prefects.
  • Grave Robbing: How the Pantisocrats retrieved Coleridge's body.
  • Informed Ability: Near the beginning, it's hinted at that Moon might actually be a real magician, instead of a mere illusionist. After one scene, however, nothing he does afterward seems to indicate that he has supernatural powers.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: Averted. Reverend Dr. Tan believes that London can be saved, but only if the majority of its citizens are killed.
  • Jerkass: Edward Moon and Mr. Skimpole, as well as several minor characters.
  • Karma Houdini: The Prefects simply disappear from the conflict. The sequel double subverts this; at first it seems that they're in prison, but it's later revealed this is done merely by choice.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: The Prefects killing The Mongoose.
  • Police Are Useless: Played with; the police are shown to be capable of solving simple cases, but need Edward's help to solve the murder of Cyril Honeyman. Eventually subverted with Merryweather and the other police helping to hold back the forces of Love, Love, Love and Love.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted; there's a lot of sexism, racism and cruel treatment of "freaks" running as an undercurrent throughout the novel.
  • Posthumous Character: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, before being resurrected.
  • Precision F-Strike: The Human Fly uses a lot of foul language in the afterlife.
  • Professional Killers: The Prefects and the Mongoose.
  • Psychic Powers: It's left ambiguous about the extent of Madame Innocenti's powers.
  • Psycho for Hire: The Prefects, again.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: The Prefects have this in spades. Despite acting like school boys (almost like the Weasley Twins), they are also remorseless killers.
  • Public Domain Character: Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Prefects. The Reverend Dr. Tan also tried to bump off the Directorate in an effort to avert this.
  • Wham Line: But you will know me better, dear reader, as your narrator.
  • World of Snark: Pretty much every character, to varying degrees.
  • Worthy Opponent: Edward laments the lack of worthy opponents during the course of the novel; Barabbas was apparently his last.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Both the Prefects and Arthur Barge.
  • Yellowface: In-Universe. The Directorate employs white agents disguised as Chinamen.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Implied. The Reverend Dr. Tan admits he used the Honeymans and Dunbars for their money, and when everything was set into motion, they were no longer needed.

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