By Dan Simmons
Little, Brown, 2009
On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.
Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?
Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens’s life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens’s friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), DROOD explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author’s last years and may provide the key to Dickens’s final, unfinished work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Chilling, haunting, and utterly original, DROOD is Dan Simmons at his powerful best.
From the moment I heard about Drood, I knew I had to read it. I love Charles Dickens well enough, but I adore Wilkie Collins. To have both of them, fictionalized in all their glory… well it was a no-brainer. I knew I had to read it. So thank you Miriam at Little, Brown, for sending it to me!
From the very beginning, Simmons immerses the reader in 19th Century England. It’s all very English, very Victorian, and you just know you are in for a finely crafted tale. Simmons knows exactly what he’s doing too, as he sets the stage for the mystery and suspense that builds, and builds, and builds over the many pages to the ending. Dark and stormy nights; opium dens complete with Chinese kings; dodgy (and gigantic) detectives; the fine ‘art’ of mesmerism; all and more are intricately woven into this tale of two men; once friends, collaborators, good-natured competitors and now bitter rivals.
As the tale progresses, the reader is introduced to a new, dark, dangerous London, complete with nameless Wild Boys, retched sewers, dark Cathedrals, graveyards, and the menacing, mysterious Drood. The novel is very Dickensian, with many cliffhangers and foreshadowing of the doom to come. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, the rest of this gigantic novel moves by quickly as you are caught up by the gripping and enthralling tale. Simmons has clearly done his research. I almost felt as if I were reading Collins’s (the narrator) own journal as he divulged the deepest, darkest secrets of his soul. Simmons does not always paint a flattering portrait of Collins or Dickens. Collins comes out as a drug-addicted madman who sees ghosts and his doppelganger on a regular basis. Dickens is a spoiled, self-righteous brat who discards his wife (and mother of his nine children) to have an affair with a woman many, many years his junior. However, it all merely adds up to make these two men’s lives all the more fascinating and their rivalry stuff of legend.
By the end, I hated to see it all come to a close. Despite their flaws, I had a new appreciation for Dickens (who has never been a particular favorite of mine) and I had forgiven Simmons for creating in Collins such an outrageous and ridiculous fanatic. The ending, while not what I was expecting (especially with a particularly good fake-out), was compelling and delightful and dead entertaining.
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