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James P. Blaylock
Subterranean Press
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-596-06454-6
Publication Date: 08-31-2012
224 Pages; $35
Date Reviewed:08-11-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index Fantasy, Science Fiction, General Fiction  

There is still room for wonder in this world. No matter how much we think we know, no matter how much we think we have mapped, photographed and documented the planet there is now, and always will be some place we have not seen — simply because even the places we've seen before we can see again through someone else's eyes. With 'Zeuglodon' James P. Blaylock gives readers the greatest gift possible — the world viewed anew, through the perspective of 12-year old Katherine Perkins. It helps, a lot, that she intends to become a cryptozoologist, that her uncle and caretaker, John Toliver Hedgepeth, is a member of the Order of St. George, and that the earth is actually hollow. In case you were wondering.

Blaylock's latest novel may be an utterly appropriate book to hand off to the 11-year old cryptozoologist in your life, but even if that happens to be you, plan on being pleased. That's because Blaylock has a way of evoking charm and chills in equal measure, with a striking and entertainingly told story that partakes of the steampunk mindset without having to engage any of the usual paraphernalia. 'Zeuglodon' is engagingly fun and wonderfully inventive while it hearkens back to the classics, from Mark Twain to Ray Bradbury to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Backstopped by a smart concept at the heart of the novel, buoyed up with a marvelous storytelling voice, entertainingly plotted, 'Zeuglodon' is a nice spot of well-spent summer no matter how gray the days may grow.

The novel starts with Katherine and her two cousins imperiled by Lord Wheyface the Creeper on a cold day on the coast of Northern California. Katherine tells the story in the slightly officious tone of a smart pre-teen girl; she's assiduously observant, a bit funny, and reveals more than she knows. She's fun to read as her world grows ever weirder with the welcome influences of Charles Fort. Readers who know and enjoy Fort's work will find this book especially fun, and those who do not are likely to want to look him up.

Blaylock's small-town characters are charming even when they are seemingly ill-intentioned, and his Victorian villains are nicely larger than life but still fit perfectly into this well-loved universe. It's clear that Blaylock loves his whole cast, and readers will respond accordingly. Kate's perceptions serve both her own young adult audience but reveal enough of the adults' world to have some real emotional resonance.

'Zeuglodon' mixes layers of plot with equal aplomb. You'll find charming and exciting adventures taking place in carefully constructed metaphysical realities that reward the thought they provoke without calling attention to themselves. Kate's transparent prose (via Blaylock) reveals the surreal concepts that power the plot with a truly charming innocence. Awe and wonder do not admit to the artifice of age, and Blaylock has the chops to evoke both with a gentle sense of humor. 'Zeuglodon' takes readers to the center of the earth and to the center of being eleven years old — equally fantastic voyages.

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