Author Interview

Author Interview: Lavie Tidhar

You may recall that last month I reviewed The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar. The third book in his Bookman Trilogy, The Great Game was just released in the US yesterday (October 4th) and comes out in the UK tomorrow (October 6th).

Lavie Tidhar is the author of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize-winning A Man Lies Dreaming, the World Fantasy Award-winning Osama and of the critically-acclaimed The Violent Century. He has a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella for Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God. Lavie’s first non-fiction novel Art and War: Poetry, Pulp and Politics in Israeli Fiction – co-authored with Shimon Adaf – was released through Repeater in March 2016.

Lavie was kind enough to answer a few of my questions regarding his book and life in general:

  • I enjoyed your take on alternate history/reality in The Bookman, but the burning question for me is: why lizards?

If you’re asking, what’s their origins? What’s the obscure literary reference, as it were? Then the answer’s that it’s a joke reference to “Victoria”, the first novella in Paul di Filippo’s “The Steampunk Trilogy”, from 1995, where Queen Victoria is replaced with a giant newt. I thought it would be fun to throw that in but, of course, once you do that more seriously you start developing a whole rationale and back-story and before you know it the giant lizards take over! More seriously, it was interesting to posit an alternative to human empire that is decidedly non-human, which then allows you to ask interesting questions about how the course of empire and colonialism may have turned out differently had different human factions had reason to co-operate. But really it’s a bad literary joke! Or, as I’d hope, both.

  • When you’re not busy writing or cooking up new ideas for your next book, what can you be found doing?

Cooking? That’s actually something I do an awful lot. What I cook varies depending on where I live, what the climate is and what the ingredients are (so, a lot like writing!). I love living near markets, I love butchers and greengrocers and fishmongers, and at various times have had to catch my own fish / grow my own vegetables and so on. Sorry, a bit off track there! Also, in my spare time, such as it is, I do things like, you know, writing answers to interview questions… sometimes I even try to read a book!

  • You’ve written sci-fi, alternate historical fiction, thrillers, non-fiction and even comics – do you have a favorite genre to play in?

I have a weakness for the charms of the hardboiled, and noir, but otherwise not really – I tend to think of genres as just this big sandbox I get to play with and just use whatever toys I happen to like. I do find comics writing quite interesting – my graphic novel, ADLER, is due from Titan Comics at some point (though it will be a while yet!), and I’d love to do more in that form, as I love collaborating with artists. I have no artistic talent myself, so it’s very exciting to see things come into life.

Length-wise I’d say my favourite form is the novella – not too long, not too short! But always a hard sell. I’ve published 7 so far, and I’m currently writing 2 more, but, you know. It’s hard to set aside the time.

  • Back to The Bookman – I loved the large cast of writers and fictional characters you included in this book, but my favorite were those from Sherlock Holmes. Was there any particular reason they played a larger part in the varied cast of characters? Are you a big fan of the detective?

I am – I own the Annotated Sherlock Holmes (somewhere) which is great. I am also, incidentally, quite interested in Doyle himself, who was a pretty fascinating character. But really there’s everyone from anything in The Bookman, my personal favourite would probably be the cameo from Flashman. I love Flashman!

  • Who (or what, I suppose) among the group of characters in The Bookman was your favorite to write?

The pirates, I think. Mr Spoons is based on a friend of mine. I keep thinking he might come back in a novella some day…

  • Lastly, if you could travel to any fictional destination, where would you go?

I’d rather travel somewhere real I haven’t yet been, or revisit a few places as well. I was very lucky to visit and live in some pretty remote places, from the Gobi desert to the longhouses of Borneo, to living on a remote island in Melanesia… Hmmm. I don’t know! Fantasylands seem pale by comparison.

Thank you for taking the time to chat – I really appreciate it!

Thank you!

You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter .

Book Review

Book Review: The Bookman

The Bookman
By Lavie Tidhar

My Edition:
E-Book, 384 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665973

It is the 19th century and a lizard queen rules an England where a mysterious assassin kills his targets with book and authors live alongside their fictional creations. Orphan, is just that – but happy enough, living in the basement of a bookstore and working up the courage to ask Lucy to marry him. But when The Bookman strikes, targeting Lucy, he tears apart Orphans life and now Orphan must set off on a strange journey filled with automatons, pirates (both lizardine and human), Martian probes, criminal masterminds and The Bookman himself, if he ever wants to bring Lucy back.

So, if you know me at all (even via the internet), you know I couldn’t resist a book with book in the title! Especially a fantasy one!

This book is a wild mix of alternate history, sci-fi and Victorian fantasy, sprinkled with odes to a wide array of classic fiction, especially Shakespeare. In fact, there were so many references to other works of fiction that I’m sure I didn’t pick up on them all, but it was fun to spot how Tidhar calls out to those books, be it in the form of a character cameo, plot theme, or even a shop or pub.

This book is challenging to describe, as there are so many characters and plot points that Tidhar weaves into a story about revolution, equal rights, space exploration and of course, love.

In short, a race of anthropomorphic lizards landed on Earth and took over the line of succession in England. There are those who are opposed to them, chiefly, The Bookman. He is a skilled assassin who uses books as his deadly devices. When Orphan’s fiancé, Lucy, is killed when The Bookman foils the launch of the lizard’s Martian probe, Orphan is pulled into the revolution between humans, lizards, automatons and The Bookman.

Orphan’s journey is not unlike that of Homer’s in the Odyssey, with notes of Orpheus’s journey to bring back Eurydice and a smattering of several popular classic adventures. He quickly realizes he’s a pawn in a large game and constantly battles with his own moral compass as he struggles to decide which of the many sides of the revolution to support, all while really striving to be united with the woman he loves.

My favorite portion of the book was actually the Sherlock subplot. Moriarty is Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of the lizards, while Irene Adler is chief of police and Mycroft is well, Mycroft, with his eyes and ears everywhere! No offense to Orphan, but I would have gladly tossed him aside for a full novel on Doyle’s characters running wild in the world Tidhar created.

Tidhar is excellent with his descriptions – even if I didn’t always fully understand what was happening, I could easily picture how it was happening. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions – I love the mental image I created from this:

“Things lived down here. For one crazy moment he had the notion of a vanished tribe of librarians, lost in the deep underground caverns of the Bodleian, a wild and savage tribe that fed on unwary travelers.”

I mean, what’s a better image than rabid librarians!?

I have to say, the “final battle” if you will, left me a little underwhelmed and mildly confused. In the 2016 reprint edition there’s also an extra novella, Murder in the Cathedral, included which details Orphan’s time in Paris (which is glossed over in the main story) and while it was interesting, it felt out of place after I had finished the story. I had a hard time going back to that point in the story after it had already concluded and perhaps it would have been more impactful if it were included in the main narrative, but then again, it might have felt like the story was being sidetracked.

If you’re looking for an epic literary adventure that no only tips its hat to classic literary adventures, but thoroughly integrates familiar characters, or you’re into alternative history with a little sci-fi twist, I would recommend you give The Bookman a try!

I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter (he’s pretty funny).