October 25, 2013
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.
The gripes are minor and infrequent though. There's a natural levity to Tourmaline that brought to mind Neil Gaiman at his most playful (ie: "La Belle Dame de Merci" asylum - affectionately known as "Beldam"!), yet this nestles alongside dark unflinching fantasy violence that wouldn't be out of place in Clive Barker's Books of Blood. Like Christopher Priest, Brogden treats his twin realities as something of a logic puzzle but he isn't afraid to go full cosmic and explore the abstract, at times reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's masterly Book of the New Sun. These are heavyweight comparisons so early in a writer's career; a testament to the kind of talent and imagination on offer here.