A father wrangles with his impending grief in a steampunk, Wild West alternate universe in Lavie Tidhar’s dazzling novel The Escapement.
There was once a boy so beloved that his father delighted in every memory they shared, from holding him when he was born, to trips to the circus, to nights spent reading fantastical tales together. But the boy got sick, and none of the dreams they’d dreamed together seemed capable of saving him. In his dismay, his father slipped into the Escapement, a feverish place where fantasies are twisted and wars between near gods rage. There, as the Stranger, he roams the land, looking for a path to the Mountains of Darkness, where it’s rumored that a flower grows that’s capable of reversing death.
The Escapement comes to seem dual parts an allegory for the evasive phantasms that people hold most dear—including boundless excitement; including immortality—and a mythology-attuned gamer’s paradise. Here, ants scurry through glass arms that are the remnants of impossible wars; the earth yawns open for foggy miners who seek mind-bending substances—the stuff the world is made of. People drink potions that allow them to skip sideways, between worlds; people drink potions that permit them to forget. Clowns roam the lands, simultaneously feared and misunderstood, as do figures from the tarot; circus performers, who filled more mundane roles before that, transform themselves into tyrants and thieves. Shadows twist and expand, and ghosts drift by like mists. Through this sometimes hellish landscape, the Stranger presses on, believing that he has no choice.
Those who enter the Escapement should strap themselves in for horrors and wonders galore. Filled with contorted fairy tales, myths, and familiar stories, Lavie Tidhar’s latest novel is both a fantastical diversion and a moving articulation of deep parental love.
Michelle Anne Schingler
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