Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review: Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace by Tim Powers
Published: Ace Books, 1985
Awards Won: Philip K. Dick Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award

The Book:

Gregorio Rivas is retired from the Redemptionist trade - at thirty-one, he's no longer willing to risk his life rescuing new recruits from the savage religion of the Messiah Norton Jaybush, no longer eager to track the caravans of the faithful through the mutated wildernesses of Los Angeles. Once he was the best Redemptionist for hire - once he even tracked a victim right up to the walls of the Messiah's perilous Holy City in Irvine - but that's all over now.

Or it was - until he's approached to perform one last Redemption. And this time the victim who has been brainwashed and carried away by the brutal faith is his long-lost first love, Urania. And so Rivas sets out to save her, beginning a violent pilgrimage that will take him through the landscape-of-the-damned which is 22nd Century California, and into the very heart of the Jaybush cult - and finally to the nightmare city of Venice, and the fabulous, feared castle at the core of it... Deviant's Palace.”

This is the third of Powers’s novels that I’ve read, and I definitely plan to read more of his work.  Thus far, I have had a consistently very positive experience in reading his entertaining and unusual style of fiction.

My Thoughts:

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace throws the reader down in the middle of an exceedingly strange world, without very much information to guide the way.  The world is clearly a post-nuclear wasteland, but many of the stranger aspects of the world—like Venice and its ‘blood’, hemogoblins, and the jaybird cult—were also not necessarily entirely understood by the protagonist.  I enjoyed the slow process of figuring everything out, especially since almost all of the world-building details ended up being essential for the story.  I also appreciated how this approach allowed the increasingly weird details of the world to be uncovered at a gradual pace.  I think introducing too much information too soon would have risked startling readers off with too much strangeness.
As usual, I loved Powers world-building and the physical way he incorporated the more fantastical elements into the story. I even recognized some ideas that I’ve seen show up again in later works. For instance, the idea of particular music or rhythms providing protection from inhuman power (here the jaybird cult) comes up again in protection from djinn in Declare. However, I was struck by the feeling that this seemed like an early work, and that the prose and the story were not quite as polished as in other novels I’ve read.  Since Dinner at Deviant’s Palace was actually published after The Anubis Gates, I am suspecting that it is just not quite as timeless a story.  It might be that the fear of nuclear apocalypse, and of the mental damage that comes from cult indoctrination or heavy drug abuse, is more rooted in the 20th century experience. 

The basic story also seems a little old-fashioned, focused as it is on a hero’s quest to rescue, and rekindle romance with, his long-lost love.  It seems a little bit like the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, especially given the way Greg uses his musical talent during his quest.  However, the story is not quite that simple.  I felt like the deeper story involved the importance of discarding illusions and interacting with the world as it is.  This is true for Greg’s idealization of Urania as his tragic muse, his romanticized view of himself, and for other things, such the comfort that can be found in the Jaybird’s damaging Sacrament.  I really enjoyed Greg’s journey and his development as a person. While I thought the epilogue seemed unnecessary, I thought the ending of the novel made for a fitting conclusion of Greg’s story.

My Rating: 4/5

Dinner at Deviant’s Palace is a strange post-nuclear science fiction novel from a skilled storyteller.  The wasteland of California feels well-developed, and increasingly strange details crop up as the plot progresses.  Greg Rivas begins on a quest to redeem his long-lost ex-girlfriend from a dangerous cult, but his journey will force him to face some difficult truths about himself and the world he lives in.  This story feels a little more dated than some of Powers other novels, but I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

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