No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tourniquet: Tales from the Renegade City -- Kim Lakin-Smith

This review originally appeared in Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association, Autumn 2008

Tourniquet, the debut novel from Kim Lakin-Smith, takes us to an alternative Nottingham; whether by 'alternative' you infer a variant history, or a dance to a different beat, the epithet rings true. Nottingham's transformation began some years before the action of Tourniquet, when 'the most revered band in the history of rock', ubergoths Origin, decided to turn their back on the mainstream and retire to the city, provoking an influx of adoring fans and followers, and an outflux of ordinary, decent Daily Mail-reading folk. Gradually Nottingham, its municipal bodies suborned by the wages of Gothic rock, has been transmuted into the darkly magical Renegade City, its familiar landmarks and thoroughfares -- Sneinton Market, St Mary's Church, Maid Marion Way, the legendary venue Rock City -- overseen by the Drathcar (the four neo-vampyric members of Origin) and overrun by the tribes that have evolved.

Tourniquet opens with a Fae girl, Jezebel, fleeing an army of Skinwalkers, one of whom turns out to be her estranged brother Harish. Next, we encounter Druid, Origin's drummer, vowing to avenge the reluctant martyrdom of lead singer Roses, who burnt to death in a fire that may have been no accident. Roses, it turns out, was Druid's brother, which may explain why Druid's so keen to discover the truth behind his death when the other members of Origin, slinky bassist Sophia and lilac-eyed lead guitarist Adeudas, seem fashionably unconcerned.

Fame can be its own punishment, as many a rockstar's found to their cost: but in this case Druid's famous face is his salvation, for he can pass as no more than one of the Drathy, obsessive fans who emulate the clothes, the physiology and the lives of their idols. It's the mysterious "D", then, who mingles with the lowlives of the Renegade City; who encounters the sassy and streetwise IQ (Irvine Quirk), his battleaxe grandmother Queenie, and a host of other colourful characters who seem drawn as much from legend and ballad as from the counterculture.

Lakin-Smith's prose is extravagant almost to excess, glowing as a stained glass window and spiky as baroque barbed wire. The Nottingham she paints is not one of soft-focus spires limned with dark fire, but a convincingly gritty cybergoth city, dangerous and dirty. There are motorbike tourneys, Fae wings patched with duct-tape, wireless pirates plying the canals. It's visually arresting, and often rather frantic as D and Jez progress on what's either a quest or an extended pub-crawl through the underside of the city.

Like Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love sequence, Tourniquet posits a world where rock'n'roll is really as important as it thinks it should be. Unlike Jones' amiable dystopia, the Renegade City is an isolated (and likely barricaded) polder in a land of normality. Very little is said of the rest of England, the rest of the world, save as something to be fled. Whatever the goths and hippies and punks hope to find in the Renegade City, it's not peace. The different tribes -- Trawlers, Castclan, Skinwalkers, Fae -- are engaged in constant internecine conflict, as exclusive and elitist as playground cliques: 'apartheid', Jez terms it, and Druid is increasingly aware that Roses' libertarian notions haven't translated well to reality.

Tourniquet's so tightly and intricately knotted a novel that it's sometimes hard to see through the gloss of poetic prose to the shape of the story. There's an unresolved feel to it, a haziness to the last few chapters, that makes me wonder if the stories herein are to be continued. I'll certainly look forward to more of Lakin-Smith's work.


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