Mordew by Alex Pheby
Galley Beggar Press, pb, £11.65
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
Alex Pheby’s ‘Mordew’ follows the life of Nathan Treeves as he comes into his magical inheritance. He learns that there is much he doesn’t know about his parent’s and the parts they played in making Mordew the city it is today. His journey is inspired mostly by circumstance, rather than by any real decisions on his part, and he is manipulated by multiple characters along the way for their own means. These means are often mysterious or unclear and they don’t tend to end positively for poor Nathan.
The ending to this book is unexpected and left me feeling somewhat bereft with the impression that there was much I didn’t understand and never would. This created an interesting effect, leaving me with similar thoughts and feelings to what I imagined Nathan himself must be experiencing with his own limited outlook and understanding regarding the world around him. This is a recurring effect throughout as the narrative stays firmly within Nathan’s mind, except for one brief diversion, and allows the reader to know only the things that Nathan himself knows. This does not turn out to be a lot which adds an interesting dimension to the story.
Pacing throughout the novel is very varied with some scenes happening almost too quickly to follow and others churning along quite slowly. However, there is enough intrigue and randomness to hold your attention throughout; including multiple subplots, such as the short adventure of the talking dog Anaximander, which always end just before you are fully satisfied and so leave you eager for more and full of questions. Some of these questions are answered by the quirkily extensive index at the end which fills in a few gaps and adds a depth of detail to the backstory including hints about the discovery of magic, the murder of God, and the founding of Mordew. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of some of the adult characters, which give us an insightful view into the aspects of their lives that Nathan is naïve about.
One of my favourite characters is the un-nameable book given to Nathan by the Master. It has a hazy history, which came as quite a surprise when it was finally revealed, and makes a very unique character despite its’ own constant declaration that it is not a ‘you’. It is these unique and entertaining magical details that make ‘Mordew’ such an enticing read.