Lisa Goldstein, Dark Cities Underground (Tor, 1999)

Dark Cities Underground takes its place in a line of stunning novels by an extraordinary author.

Jerry Jones doesn't like to talk to anyone about the series of fantasy novels his mother wrote when he was a child, in which he was the central character. The novels were supposedly based on stories he told his mother about visits to a place called "Neverwas," but now he's not certain about the circumstances behind the books -- just that they make him uncomfortable, and he doesn't really want to know.

Enter Ruthie Berry, a freelance writer working on a book about the series. At first, Jerry doesn't want to talk to her, but her company becomes more appealing when an insistent and unpleasant Mr. Barnaby Sattermole also shows up, demanding information about the stories as well. Then Sattermole vanishes abruptly, and Jerry and Ruth are drawn into the reality of Neverwas, an actual place located in the underground subway systems worldwide.

Here Ruth and Jerry discover communities, conspiracies and ancient legends come to life. Egyptian mythology predominates, but other archetypes are present as well. Accompanied by Sarah Kendall, a strange woman whose husband was murdered gruesomely, they make their way through the literal maze and, particularly for Jerry, come face to face with the truth.

Lisa Goldstein blends together mythology, history and psychology seamlessly in a novel that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Her writing is lucid and vivid, and the plot makes something new out of old ideas. Much as Tim Powers does in The Stress of Her Regard, Goldstein ties actual events and people into her tale. Her characters are well drawn, some appealing and all fascinating, although Ruthie's daughter Gilly seems a bit older than the four or so years old she is supposed to be, certainly a minor fault.

Obviously, comparisons may be drawn with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but it is remarkable that two authors had suck strikingly different, yet equally fantastic visions and directions for the same basic idea. My only real complaint is that Goldstein doesn't write fast enough; her previous novel, Walking the Labyrinth was published in 1996.

On the other hand, Goldstein's books are definitely well worth the wait.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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