A Gothic novel set in the mid-Victorian era, Greg Howes' “The Man Behind the Glass” is a scintillating, engaging narrative that combines elements of science fiction, supernaturalism, mystery, and the psychological thriller in a balanced mélange of commanding prose. One of the more refreshing examples of speculative fiction written in recent years, the novel is not weighed down by the pomposity or pretension that makes so many candidates of this sub-genre difficult to read or unbelievable, but combines keen historical research with realistic characters to create a supernatural tale that is simultaneously accessible and transcendental.
It follows the exploits of a Victorian photographer (with the memorable name Septimus Blackwood) who – true to the nature of his time period – has merged science with mysticism, hoping that photographic technology will help him connect with the Other Side. Creeping ever closer to family secrets which are buried in London’s seedy underbelly, Blackwood finds himself locked into a dangerous mission with physical and metaphysical perils at every corner. Driven to understand his past, he imperils his future, and descends ever further into a spider’s web of intrigue, hauntings, and secrecy which threatens to consume him body, soul, and mind.
Written engagingly and at an active pace, the novel brings us face to face with genuine philosophical questions of identity, life after death, fate, and free will. The story probes into the nature of individuality through supernatural metaphors in a manner that will remind readers of classic horror of the high-minded works of Dickens, Machen, Blackwood, Collins, Le Fanu, Riddell, Oliphant and Edwards. But Howe is not making a mere pastiche of the Victorian Gothic: he knowingly or unknowingly plugs into the traditions of Edwardian science fiction – Wells, Conan Doyle, Shiel, etc. – and more contemporary masters – Gaiman, Bradburry, Campbell, etc. – by blending adventure and horror into the literary tradition of the carnivalesque, where fiction intentionally holds a funhouse mirror to society, caricaturing its flaws to a purposeful effect. The result is a compelling novel filled with action and mystery, but written with a higher mission of analyzing human psychology and society and turning the camera lens on the reader.
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