The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Cover: amazon.co.uk

Although I’ve been reading fantasy since I was a teenager, there are a lot of classics that I’ve never even heard of, and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers was one of them. Hastily reading the back cover before I downloaded the ebook, I somehow got the impression that the main character was Arthur Conan Doyle, and that he travelled back in time to meet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in some kind of mashup between Arthur & George and Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency. The actual book was rather different than I imagined.

I didn’t know going in that The Anubis Gates was published in 1983, but within a handful of chapters I could tell. At least eight male characters are introduced before there’s even a single woman mentioned, and even then, the first female character is somebody’s wife. It’s not until The Anubis Gates hits its stride and has plunged you into time-travel and a criminal underworld that you get the first main female character. Readers at my book club also found the depiction of a gypsy camp very outdated, though that didn’t jump out to me as much.

That’s how you know you’re tired, he told himself: when a guy a century dead seems about to wink at you out of a picture.

The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers

The Anubis Gates is set primarily in London, but as a London resident (albeit, of 2019 and not 1810), it didn’t feel like London. There were lists of street names which, I’m sure, were meticulously accurate, but I can’t say I was surprised to learn that Tim Powers had never set foot in London at time of writing. The network of criminal societies, too, was a little too exaggerated to feel real.

No one could possibly say that The Anubis Gates is boring, or lacking in story. Actually, I found the kind of relentless pace of the action to be a little off-putting, and the switching of perspective characters definitely did not help. I did enjoy the alternate history aspect, and there’s no doubt that Tim Powers plotted it all out wonderfully. The closed-loop time travel really works, and paid off with that satisfaction you get from seeing how a surprising detail came to be worked into the story.

The academic main character and the tragic personal backstory reminded me of The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, but The Anubis Gates didn’t match that level of emotional punch. I’d recommend it to people who hated The Goblin Emperor because ‘nothing happened’ or who enjoyed The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Next, I’ll be returning to Rob Roy, by Walter Scott.

Rating: 2 out of 5.