“Napier’s Bones” – Derryl Murphy

I picked this up at the library, enticed by the cover art. The back blurb further added to my curiosity.

An intriguing concept is presented: numbers are the base energy or Star Wars – type Force that is within everything and binds it all together. And then, there are people who can see those numbers and manipulate them. Really neat, all in all. It’s like smashing together science-fiction, urban fantasy, and a bit of math-geekiness together in one book.

Unfortunately, while the concept is extremely unique and innovative, the writing is not. Perhaps Derryl Murphy is that math geek. Or, maybe I’ve just been reading too much Victorian literature lately. Murphy tends toward long, run-on sentences; his subject often doesn’t agree with his verb; his grammar tends to be lack-luster; and, there were many places (far too many) where I gave up trying to figure out what he was trying to say because it got lost in the stream-of-consciousness-type writing. I get what he was trying to do (or, at least I think I do), if he was, in fact, attempting the whole Virginia-Woolf-stream-of-consciousness thing. Here, it was more like Murphy was pouring out the words as if he was having an actual conversation, albeit one-sided. I don’t believe it worked here. In fact, it threw me out of the story. To add to this, the adjuncts who lived centuries ago spoke the same way as twenty-first century people do — all like Murphy. Not good. All in all, the syntax detracted from not only the delivery of the story, but also its authenticity.

Further, Murphy’s characterization lacked. At the end of the book, I knew next to nothing about Dom and, because I knew nothing, I really didn’t care if he lived or died. I wasn’t invested. Murphy gave me no reason to care about Dom; Dom had no redeeming qualities other than leaving Jenna to sleep in peace and his knowledge of how to manipulate the numbers. I actually cared more about the adjunct living in Dom (Billy). Murphy was more invested in the concept and plot of the novel than in his characters.

However, despite all this apparent criticism, I would recommend this book if only for its innovative concept. Bravo to Murphy for the idea, the meshing of many abstract mathematical concepts into forms that can be tangibly manipulated (by the characters), and for showing us that magic can be about the numbers.

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