Tim Lebbon Changing of Faces Reviewed by Rick Kleffel

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Changing of Faces

Tim Lebbon

PS Publishing

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-902-88068-4

Publication Date: 03-15-2004

98 Pages; $40.00

Date Reviewed: 05-17-04

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004




02-14-02, 04-25-02, 08-05-02, 12-13-02

It's not possible to watch a child grow up one day at a time. It's really much easier if you're not the parent, the on-site person responsible for moving from one day to the next. The changes that turn a child into a teenager and eventually into an adult are subtle until they're obvious, and then they're obvious only in retrospect. The little victories, the small signs remain hidden until the mountains that grow from these molehills rear up suddenly over the unsuspecting parent, ominous and obvious. This is what makes coming-of-age tales so tricky. It's tough to capture the joys of hindsight.

Tim Lebbon's first PS Publishing novella, 'Naming of Parts', was such a pleasure because it effectively used a familiar but fantastically re-invented background against which it staged a tenderly-written coming-of-age story. Jack and his family fell apart in the manner that many families fall apart; a teenager grows up too soon, too fast and not well, while a younger sibling almost understands. Lebbon set his soft, familiar story against a diamond-hard horrific background; the dead have come to life, in many cases, with a hunger for the flesh of the living. Lives were lost, lives were changed and pre-pubescent Jack grew up a little faster as the familiar world fell to pieces. 'Naming of Parts' was a beautifully wrought story that left more room for a sequel. Now that it's widely available as part of a recent Leisure paperback release, PS Publishing have given us a glimpse at what follows in Lebbon's equally effective sequel, 'Changing of Faces'. If you haven't read 'Naming of Parts', read no further until you do.

Jack and his father were the only survivors of the nuclear family in that most unclear of apocalypses. They have made it to the seaside and are awaiting rescue, but there's no rescue to be had. The entire world has been changed. Including, perhaps both Jack and his father. One night, soon after their arrival, the first signs of that change manifest themselves. The few survivors managing to live in an abandoned ferry find themselves under attack from enormous creatures of the woods; crows, bees, bats, all large enough and hungry enough to want to rend the tender human flesh that waits within the ferry. The living dead seem easy to understand to the survivors compared to this new menace. There's a mystery at the core of this Apocalypse that has not yet yielded to sweet reason.

Lebbon's writing has an immediacy that gives it the impact of a motion picture. He strikes on two levels. On one hand, we have the resonant tale of a father and son growing together and apart under terrible circumstances. The emotional component of the novel is handled with all the right notes of tenderness and love, sweet but not smarmy. On the other hand, we have a powerfully written novel of action and terror, in which savage attacks are rendered by prose so transparent, readers will be tempted to shine a light through it to see if they can project it on the big screen. Readers who look for only one component or the other will find that neither distracts from the other. If you want to read an action packed novel of terror, you're good; if you want to read a coming-of-age-novel detailed to that precarious time of the first awakenings of sexual understanding, this is the ticket; assuming of course, you aren't completely put off by the presence of monsters in your fiction.

But Lebbon does the monsters right as well. Monsters thrive best in conditions of explicit description and mysterious motivations. There's a lot more going on in 'Changing of Faces' than an updates of 'Food of the Gods'. Lebbon allows his monsters to grow into characters as well, giving them a compelling interest in the mystery of what sort of Apocalypse it is that all have on their hands.

While 'Changing of Faces' offers a complete and satisfying story, it does not solve all the mysteries. Doors and hearts are left open, and while Jack is clearly changed from the beginning of the novel to the end, he's just as clearly not fully grown. What sort of man he might grow up to be is a mystery that is not solved in this work. The Apocalypse unfolds, but does not reveal itself. 'Changing of Faces' is a fully-realized satisfying novella of the terror informed by growth and change. But Jack is not yet an adult. Readers can only hope that they -- and he -- will live to see it come to pass.