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Mordew (2020)

by Alex Pheby

Series: Cities of the Weft (1)

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1342163,609 (3.37)11

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Alex Pheby’s Mordew is a satisfying fantasy. Mordew (the name is said to be derived from the French mort and Dieu, death and God) seethes with all sorts of life and unlife. There is the Living Mud. There are flukes, non-viable life-forms in the shape of human body parts. Other babies and conceived and born in the normal way by human beings. There are chilling gill men who guard the city’s ports and the houses of the very rich.

A magic glass road leads up from the Slums, through the mercantile section to the Manse where the Master, the creator of this dystopia, lives and weaves his magic.

Nathan Treeves, a boy from the slums, is recruited into a gang consisting of the leader Gam, the Joeys (are they conjoined twins?) and Prissy, whose sister works as a prostitute. Nathan believes they may help him fund medicine for this dying father.

Nathan catches the Master’s eye. We don’t learn the reason for this adoption until much later in the novel. The Master sets Nathan up, under the eye of the faithful Bellows, in luxury in the Manse, where he is educated. The end point of the education is for Nathan to learn the Magic which sustains Mordew and the other worlds.

Where Nathan himself ends up is a surprise, and I am not sure that I liked Nathan’s destination, although the fact that his destructive spree is his destiny is clearly drawn.

The story is fast paced. The many weird and intriguing characters, the vicious Fagan-like Mr Padge among them, help or hinder Nathan on his discoveries.

The last quarter of the book, after the conclusion of the narrative, is a glossary setting out the world of Mordew in detail, how the Magic works, the connection between the material and immaterial realms, the place of time and some of the history of the worlds. I savoured this ‘theological’ section as well, even though it was not necessary to the telling of the story.

If you enjoy dystopian fantasy with a steampunk-like aesthetic, you will find much to like in Mordew. ( )
  TedWitham | Aug 22, 2021 |
This is a giant sprawling book that has no clear purpose or story. It is trying to be an epic and ends up as a damp squib. Nathan has some magical power that allows him to create life to things that want to be alive. Only at various points in the book this same magical power also allows him to kill great swathes of people just because he feels like it. Which breaks all my rules - you can introduce magic, but you can't then have it magically able to do something else again just because that makes it convenient. The world that has been invented is basically a city state, that has layers of society, the slum dwellers are the lowest of the low and live covered in mud and filth below the merchant city and the thing is dominated by The Manse, where The Master lives. Nathan comes from the slums, and gets in with a gang that steal from the merchants and well to do in order to please the gang master. But when in the book Nathan is taken into the Master's house, because of aforesaid ability, he simply leaves his friends behind without a second glance. Nathan also seems curiously incurious to the fate of the boys that are regularly taken into the Manse to work for the Master - and never seem to return. He is very shallow and has no depth of personality beyond his odd ability. Some of the supporting characters were more interesting, the talking dog being by far the most intelligent being in here, but the author falls into the trap of making every woman into a whore. It is all very two dimensional and fails to hang together coherrently. Nathan has nothing about him to make him an interesting person beyond his power and that seems to flex to fit the needs of the rambling story, so feels like a writing convenience rather than a genuinely interesting fact to hang our interest on.
I also found the list of events that will be found in the book (which runs to 3 pages) to be ridiculous and arch. There is also a glossary of over 100 pages at the end. At the beginning it tells you not to read it, but by the time I got the end of the book I simply didn't care enough to read any of it.
I finished it because this came as a book subscription book and I feel I owe it to them to finish it. But if this is the first in the series, the others will remain firmly unread. ( )
  Helenliz | Feb 18, 2021 |
Showing 2 of 2
The Gormenghastly city of Mordew is built on living mud – we discover it's God’s body, not quite dead – that teems with grotesque and fantastical life. Pheby's protagonist Nathan rises from the slums to meet a special destiny. It may sound like a cliched storyline, but the relentless inventiveness and verve of Pheby's imagination make this book stand alone. Startling, baroque, sometimes revolting – but always amazing.
added by Cynfelyn | editThe Guardian, Adam Roberts (Nov 28, 2020)
Mordew is a darkly brilliant novel, extraordinary, absorbing and dream-haunting. That it succeeds as well as it does speaks to Pheby’s determination not to passively inhabit his Gormenghastly idiom but instead to lead it to its most extreme iteration, to force inventiveness and grotesqueness into every crevice of his work...It’s an extravagant and often unnerving marvel.

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