Everyone loves the circus, even a city as already rich in culture and history as San Francisco, city by the bay. Site of famous (infamous) earthquakes. Home to Bob, the shirtless guy who teaches people to dance on the beach in Aquatic Park. There are godlings and beings running around with strange powers, and the circus itself, of course, is not all that it is appears. Its proprietor is a bit of an odd duck, and what’s with that Riverdance-esque acrobat troupe, anyway? And their latest performer, no matter how good, is a man of mystery.
Oh, and did I mention there’s a killer running around the city, a serial killer to equal the old Zodiac murder spree? In the end, everything revolves around the so called Hang Wire Killer in Hang Wire, a novel by Adam Christopher.
Hang Wire [Angry Robot Books] is an almost over-full smoothie of a novel, with more ingredients than you can shake a stick at, put together and blended on high until smooth. In addition to the creepy circus, the godlings, and the killer, the novel also alternates its present day point of view with a running narrative of Joel’s life from the late 19th century to the present day. His walk through American history, starting with the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, is a chilling set of events, as Joel patiently puts together what we will see him employ to such effect in the present day, and especially the denouement.
The present day mainly focuses on three characters. The shirtless Bob, teacher of dance on the beach, is a retired god. Can gods retire? Bob is certainly trying to do so, especially since he does not like the nature of the god he once was. He much prefers to be Bob, even if he is tempted to use his enormous power to help others. Ted has a different problem. After a strange fortune cookie incident on his birthday, his blackouts and sleepwalking have alarmed him as to what he might be doing in his ‘spare time’ in addition to being a reporter for a blog. And then there is Joel, in the present day, trying to manage his circus, with a rather drama-filled cast. Several of Ted’s co-workers and members of the circus fill out the points of view.
The writing, as in Christopher’s earlier novels, is top notch and, first and foremost, entertaining. Action beats are something Christopher does well, and when the action in the novel has a ramp up, the writing takes the lead and drags the reader right into the middle of the story. Be it an earthquake, the chase and rundown of the Killer, or the creepy actions of Joel throughout history, when the action rises, the story to matches. And there is plenty of humor to the novel, too, in the text as well as the action. I was very amused at one entry in a list of Gods that Bob muses about at one point. Very clever, Mr. Christopher.
The novel is wildly inventive. The author has no compunctions about stirring yet another element of his mythology and cosmos into the pot at any given time, and the aforementioned excellent writing makes that seem perfectly natural and reasonable. Hawaiian God? Sure. Korean deity working through a family? Right on. A dread pact with what is as close to a Lovecraftian entity without naming one as you can get? The water’s just fine. And even in the endgame, when it looks like the author has played out the show and the performance, he is still throwing up twists and surprises for the reader.
However, this hodgepodge and everything into the pot comes at the price of a lack of connection to the characters. The quick chapters, while encouraging a “one more page” feel (and I succumbed to this often) also means that establishing momentum in the novel is not easy. With the novel wildly jumping all over the place, and always ready to throw another bit of worldbuilding or a new idea or a new reveal instead of real character growth, the novel suffers. Bob has an internal struggle to try and not unleash his full God-like ability, but other than that, the novel is much more of a ride and a roller coaster than a particularly deep novel. I was entertained, and you are likely to be as well. However, the novel does lack the heft of, say, American Gods. In many ways, although this is not a YA novel, this book reminds me of Gwenda Bond’s The Woken Gods. Readers of one are very likely to enjoy the other, and on the same basis.
I was ultimately entertained by Hang Wire, and you are likely to be as well, even if I wished for something just a little more substantial and long lasting once I was done with the novel. Its a great ride while it lasts.