October 25, 2013
We're introduced to the main characters with a pair of striking opening scenes: a beautiful young woman walks into a Birmingham art gallery, puts her hand to a Victorian painting of Eve and watches as the paint starts to move beneath her touch. A man wakes alone on a raft in the middle of an ocean filled with bits of random junk, floating towards oblivion, unable to remember who he is.
How these two stories entwine is a joy to read; there's an urgency to Brogden's prose that keeps the action fast and thrilling, without sacrificing either thematic depth or his knack for an evocatively British atmosphere ("Seagulls wheeled like windborne litter in a sky the colour of lead"). He sculpts the magical aspects of the book so subtly that you'll find yourself wondering if there was ever a time when words like "dreamwrack" and "worldpool" weren't part of your natural vocabulary. As we come to understand the meaning of the Tourmaline Archipelago - the story's surreal setting - and how it weaves into reality as we know it, the journey is unpredictable, exciting and ultimately very moving.
Although we're treated to hideous tentacled monsters, adorable fish-people, eerie glowing angels, megalomaniac goggle-eyed baddies and even hints of Steampunk that didn't bring me out in hives (no mean feat), Brogden's at his most powerful when he examines the dramatic heart of the story; our own mortality. He looks death in the face and emerges with a deeper appreciation for the preciousness of life.
Tourmaline is so conceptually vast that it could easily have been an epic novel or even a long-running comic series. At a lean 320 pages, it occasionally feels like there are too many ideas for its covers to hold inside. Every once in a while, it stretches itself too far and will rush blindly through an idea that a lesser writer might've got a whole book out of, which is as impressive as it is frustrating. A couple of times I felt myself wanting to shout "No! Wait! I wanted to know about THAT THING!" and there were other scenes so outlandish I couldn't even attempt to get a mental handle on them before they'd gone ('The Swarm' being one particular chapter that baffled me as to how it was working). However, these feel like they're misfiring with feverish ambition rather than failing through lack of effort or vision.