Felix Gilman‘s debut novel Thunderer is set in the city of Ararat — a name well-chosen for a place where gods are manifest. Not just a god, but many, many gods: gods evil and gods benign, gods appearing once in an eon and gods constantly present, gods changing the shape of the city and gods changing the shape of a life. The city itself is the real subject of the book, as I find to be the case with most New Weird fiction, a place of never-ending fascination.
But perhaps the description of a city alone cannot be a tale. Gilman does not leave us without plot, though there are times in the novel when it seems he’d like to endlessly explore the byways of the city without returning to his characters, who are often less interesting. Arjun is a young priest of the Voice, a god who has left its rural congregation; Arjun’s theory is that the city has called to the god, who has become lost there. He has come to Ararat to seek the god. In the course of his search, Arjun incurs the wrath of another god, the interest of a group of philosophers, and, ultimately, some secrets left largely unexplored here.
A parallel plot involves Jack, a boy trapped in a particularly brutal workhouse until a god and his own cleverness work his release. His freedom fires his blood with a wish for the freedom of others, and he begins a crusade that threatens to swallow the city. When he joins forces with Arjun and the philosophers to rescue their leaders, Ararat itself seems to tremble on its foundations.
Ararat is too wonderful a place to be contained in a single book, which makes me happy that Gilman wrote Gears of the City as a follow-up. Thunderer explores a very small portion of the city, little of its politics, and almost nothing at all of the great mountain at its border. Gilman succeeds at an author’s most difficult trick: causing the reader to cry, “More, more!”