Procession of the Dead (book, Darren Shan, 2008)


A review of the famous YA author’s adult book. From Death Ray 12.

THREE STARS

D. B. Shan/HarperVoyager

Reboot of top young adult author’s adult trilogy…

Procession of the Dead is a brawler of a book, a violent mix of contemporary fantasy and gangster flick, set in a mysterious nowhere-city with Incan roots and American sensibilities. A dreamlike place with no name, run by a ruthless criminal overlord called The Cardinal, Shan’s city owes as much to Gotham or Sin City as it does to the Miami of Scarface, and little to reality.

Capac Raimi pitches up in the city with one thing on his mind, to become a gangster under the tutelage of his washed-up uncle Theo, once a big fish in this pool teeming with sharks. One thing leads to another, Capac finds himself working directly for The Cardinal, and discovers he is been lined up as heir apparent. But nothing is as it appears, and it gradually dawns on Capac that he cannot remember his life before he arrived in the city…

Procession of the Dead is a fast-paced, engaging book written with a clarity of purpose  one tends to find in the prose of kids’ authors. You’ll stick with it, if only to find out exactly what Capac truly is.

But it’s a one dimensional affair, a selfish kind of narrative, focussed through Shan’s preferred first person entirely on Capac, whose character slews from extreme to extreme with little explanation. There are some interesting secondary characters, notably the amoral serial character Pauca Waimi and The Cardinal himself, but even these feel like stage dressing. There’s no depth to the city. Cities are complex ecosystems teeming with multiple layers of human life. Here we only see one stratum, and sketchily detailed it is too. There’s nothing here that does not serve the narrative, which itself only exists to mainline Shan’s ultimate, bleak revelation. This lack of veracity to the concrete jungle makes it little more than a grimy backdrop to the increasingly violent proceedings, and the book a lesser work than it could have been. There are others who do urban fantasy far more convincingly. Fun, but in the end it’s no more alive than The Cardinal’s collection of puppets.

Did you know?

Procession of the Dead is Shan’s first effort for adults, but this is its second chance. It was originally published as Ayuamarca in 1999, the first book of a trilogy that was never finished. This version has been substantially re-edited for this release, and the following two books will be released in 2009 and 2010, the third for the first time ever.

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