You might have already noticed my fondness for opening lines.  According to Mary Kole, this is a writer’s prime real estate.  In THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY (HAC) by Chris Wooding, the opening line establishes the setting.  The first sentence of HAC is:

The airship lumbered low overhead, its long, lined belly a dull smear of silvery light in the fog as it reflected the gas lamps of the city beneath.

Gas lamps AND airships.  This tells me that we must be set somewhere at the turn of the century.  As we progress through the first two paragraphs, Mr. Wooding establishes that this is London, the streets are cobbled rather than paved, and that horse-drawn carriages are the primary mode of travel.  But the history isn’t correct.  In this version of world events, the “Prussians” strategically place their silent, and secret, airships over London one night and bomb the city.  The destruction is immense and the British spirit is broken.  Parts of the city have gone almost feral; wild wolves roam the streets and hoards of demonic monsters terrorize the people.  This is one bleak city.

I don’t mind admitting that I loved the setting of HAC.  It is a familiar place–London–with very unfamiliar qualities.  Like the packs of wolves.  The juxtaposition was delicious and created a strong mental picture of this world.  The drawback?  HAC has a pretty slow pace.  If you’re familiar with H.P. Lovecraft you’ve already had a taste of this style.  When it doesn’t work, the story becomes a plodding tar pit.  Fortunately Mr. Wooding’s writing is engaging enough to make it work.

The main characters of HAC are Thaniel and Alaizabel.  They’re very familiar archetypes.  He is a gifted wych-hunter–young, handsome, and stubbornly single.  She is the damsel in distress–beautiful, hunted, and alone in the world.  In my opinion, that’s all you need to know about Thaniel and Alaizibel.  Neither one did much of anything that shocked me.

But that’s OK because Mr. Wooding has an absolute talent for creating secondary characters.  At the same time that wych-kin terrorizes the people of London, there’s also a serial killer on the loose.  His name is Stitch-face because of the stitched-together mask he wears when he kills.  Yes…this feels like it draws strongly from the Jack the Ripper killings.  Alaizabel has a hair-raising scene with Stitch-face and, crazy as this sounds, I found myself enjoying his personality.

There’s also the strange, supernatural Devil-boy Jack.  His eyes are sewn shut, but he can see the future and ward off wych-kin like a professional.  Devil-boy Jack has all the answers because he knows what’s going to happen.  Of course, he can’t tell you anything useful because it might throw things off course.  You gotta love characters like that.

And finally, there’s the scrappy, Captain Jack-like Lord Crott.  He’s a Fagan-style character with a band of merry beggars. They go out and get the money and Lord Crott makes sure that they are fed and protected.  People in need of information, visit Lord Crott.  And our sweet amnesiac Alaizabel is in desperate need of information.

That doesn’t even touch upon the gooey, creepy population of wych-kin.  Not only are the monsters the stuff of twisted fairy-tales, Mr. Wooding gives them the full force of his descriptive abilities.  He also gives them really awesome names like Cradlejack (Kidnaps babies), Rawhead (Appears when you look over your shoulder three times), and ghasts (Hides in children’s tombs).  If you like horror because of the monsters, this book is for you.

So that’s a few of the characters and the setting of THE HAUNTING OF ALAIZABEL CRAY by Chris Wooding.  Honestly, there’s a whole cast that I haven’t mentioned.  This book is populated.  However, because Mr. Wooding paints such a vivid picture of each character, I didn’t get confused as the story progressed.  That is no easy feat!

The super-creepy artwork is by Shain Erin (seriously, this artist makes constructs really messed-up dolls that are icky and awesome.  LOVE it.) and I found it on flickr.