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Homunculus: Narbondo, Book 2 | [James P Blaylock]

Homunculus: Narbondo, Book 2

In 1870s London, a city of contradictions and improbabilities, a dead man pilots an airship and living men are willing to risk all to steal a carp. Here, a night of bangers and ale at the local pub can result in an eternity at the Blood Pudding with the rest of the reanimated dead.... A comic science-fiction novel first published in 1986. It took the Philip K Dick award that year, and was the second book in Blaylock's loose steampunk trilogy, following The Digging Leviathan (1984) and preceding Lord Kelvin's Machine (1992).
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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award

In 1870s London, a city of contradictions and improbabilities, where living men are willing to risk all to steal a carp. Here, a night of bangers and ale at the local pub can result in an eternity at the Blood Pudding with the rest of the reanimated dead.

A dead man has been piloting a mysterious decaying airship across the foggy skies of the city for some years, arousing the interest of many: the Royal Society, a fraudulent evangelist named Shiloh, the vivisectionist Dr. Ignacio Narbondo and of course the scientist and explorer Professor Langdon St. Ives.

St. Ives and his friends of the Trismegistus Club are more concerned with the inheritance of Jack Owlesby, a fine young fellow affianced to Dorothy, the beautiful daughter of toymaker/inventor William Keeble, who builds jolly boxes for space aliens, oxygenators, and gigantic emeralds. Jack's late father bequeathed him just such a gem, but also left behind dark knowledge related to the evil Narbondo. St. Ives suspects that Narbondo and his assistant, are using this knowledge to raise the dead, possibly for nefarious purposes. When poor Bill Kraken steals what everyone assumes to be Owlesby's emerald in a fit of alien-induced madness, ambitions, greed and heroism collide turning Hampstead Heath into a carnival of flying skulls, crumbling ghouls and crashing spaceships.

This rip-roaring, highly entertaining steam punk classic is the second book in the Narbondo series, written by Blaylock, one of the literary pioneers of the Steampunk movement. Set in the same world, the series need not be read in order.

©2012 James Blaylock (P)2012 Audible Ltd

What the Critics Say

"Try this zany story on audio...Nigel Carrington was a brilliant choice. There are a lot of similar characters in Homunculus, but Mr. Carrington made them distinguishable. He also hit exactly the right tone with the humour which ranged from deadpan to black comedy to zany farce. In fact, I would specifically recommend the audio version of Homunculus just because Nigel Carrington's performance was a large factor in my enjoyment of the book.... As you may have guessed, Homunculus is zany and completely over-the-top in the right kind of way....If you're in the mood for a surreal British comedy in the vein of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, James P. Blaylock's Homunculus will fit the bill nicely." (fantasyliterature.com)

"Fascinating, darkly atmospheric, absurd and brilliant. " (rantingdragon.com)

"Blaylock keeps the action moving by cutting back and forth nimbly between various plots and characters (and points of view), bringing everyone together for a bizarre, but satisfying ending." (greenmanreview.com)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.2 (49 )
5 star
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2.9 (23 )
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3.8 (25 )
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3 star
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2 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Sara London, United Kingdom 01/02/2013
    Sara London, United Kingdom 01/02/2013 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An epic to lose yourself in, brilliant narration"

    I'll be honest, this is one of those books that takes a while to get into. But once you get past the introduction and prologue, and settle into the proper action (chapter 2 on your download), Homunculus is brilliant. I love Terry Gilliam films like Baron Munchausen and Doctor Parnassus, so this type of story is right up my street.

    The story is epic and detailed, and maintains a deadpan humour throughout, painting crazy characters and absurd situations in whimsical situations. This book is categorically not for realists, but a delightful romp. Nigel Carrington's narration is perfect in communicating the surreal British humour that runs throughout the whole story, and I loved the almost Blackadder tones he maintained for Langdon St Ives' character. If you enjoy the alternative magical realities created in books like Aaronovitch's River of London trilogy, and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula books, give this a go!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MRM Scotland 20/02/2013
    MRM Scotland 20/02/2013 Member Since 2008

    I like books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Such a shame"

    I so wanted to enjoy this - the subject sounds wonderful and there are great reviews all over the internet. However, to me it just reads like a third rate imitation of Douglas Adams. And why settle for an imitation when you can have the real thing? The humour just doesn't quite cut the mustard. Don't let me put you off, I realise I am in the minority due to the consensus otherwise on various websites, but I'd suggest thinking twice if you are a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide or Dirk Gently. Very disappointed.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rob Sussex 23/09/2013
    Rob Sussex 23/09/2013 Member Since 2012

    weekend commando

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Highly entertaining and original !"

    Nigel Carrington's performance was the driving force for this novel and eccentric story being so darned entertaining. He not only captures and differentiates the sometimes zany and off the wall characters with his talented voice... but the speed and delivery of the prose totally matches the mood of the moment. For example, there are many moments of slapstick bizarre goings on that would be under-appreciated without his delivery... Really quite brilliant.

    So don't worry too much about deciphering the plot, particularly in the early stages, where characters and events are being established, just let Mr Carrington flow and enjoy it. It all comes together in the end...

    Unusual, and highly recommended, and a great introduction to the next title, Lord Kelvin's Machine, which is even better.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dereena 11/07/2013
    Dereena 11/07/2013
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    2
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    Story
    "Good in parts"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    If you’re eccentric, you’ll love this book. The characters are both funny and dark and believable. Some of the plot needed further development, but on the whole I enjoyed the story.


    Would you recommend Homunculus to your friends? Why or why not?

    Yes. Recommend they read Skulls first.


    What does Nigel Carrington bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    Emotion


    Could you see Homunculus being made into a movie or a TV series? Who would the stars be?

    Yes. three.


    Any additional comments?

    Found myself skipping bits.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jonathan Horsham, United Kingdom 15/04/2013
    Jonathan Horsham, United Kingdom 15/04/2013 Member Since 2010
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    7
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    "Fast moving, highly imaginative entertaining romp"

    Never a dull moment in this fast moving imaginative fun steam punk novel, really enjoyed it, but sometimes struggled to keep pace, but maybe that is just me! Excellent characterisations and well read by Nigel Carrington.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Stockport, United Kingdom 13/04/2013
    Andrew Stockport, United Kingdom 13/04/2013
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    "Escapism and intrigue"

    Really enjoyed this, characters took a while to develop but the story carry's it along. Characterisation is well done and the multi-speaker scenes it is easy to follow who is who.

    Will be exploring the series further.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P HAVERFORDWEST, United Kingdom 07/04/2013
    P HAVERFORDWEST, United Kingdom 07/04/2013 Member Since 2007
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    3
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    "First Steampunk Novel"

    This was my first excursion into the Steampunk genre and I have to say that it took me a little while to get into. Once I had got myself in the right frame of mind I really enjoyed the alternate reality. The characters were well written and described. In the end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-7 of 7 results
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  • Katherine
    St. Johns, FL, United States
    22/03/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Over the top in the right kind of way"

    "Does the night seem uncommonly full of dead men and severed heads to you?"

    Langdon St. Ives is a man of science and a member of the Royal Society. With the help of his dependable and discreet manservant, St. Ives prefers to spend his time secretly building a spaceship in his countryside silo. But currently he???s in London to help his friend Jack Owlesby recover a wooden box containing the huge emerald Jack???s father left him for an inheritance. Things get confusing when it???s discovered that there are several of these boxes that all look the same and all contain something somebody wants. Soon St. Ives, Jack, and a host of other friends and enemies become embroiled in a madcap adventure featuring a toymaker and his lovely daughter, a captain with a smokable peg leg, the scientists of the Royal Society, an evil millionaire, a dirigible steered by a skeleton, a tiny little man in a jar who may be an alien, a cult evangelist who wants to bring his mother back to life, a love-spurned alchemist who keeps trying home remedies to cure his acne, and a lot of carp and zombies.

    As you may have guessed, Homunculus is zany and completely over-the-top in the right kind of way. The villains are meant to be caricatures ??? one of them is hunchbacked and another sneakily lurches around England with his head wrapped in unraveling bandages. They do stupid things such as leaving the curtains open while animating corpses for the evangelist to claim as converts, and tip-toeing up dark staircases carrying bombs with lit fuses. Blaylock???s bizarre but deadpan humor, in the absurdist British style (though Blaylock is American), was my favorite part of the novel. Even though Homunculus is packed with action and very funny when it???s in its farcical mode, the pace sometimes lags and the shallow characters can???t make up for it when that happens. Fortunately, that???s not often. The final scene is a screwball melee as all the heroes and villains, and thousands of London???s citizens, turn out to witness the story???s climax.

    Nigel Carrington was a brilliant choice for narrator. There are a lot of similar characters in Homunculus, but Mr. Carrington made them distinguishable. He also hit exactly the right tone with the humor which ranged from deadpan to black comedy to zany farce. On my website, I've specifically recommended the audio version of Homunculus just because Nigel Carrington???s performance was a large factor in my enjoyment of the book.

    If you???re in the mood for a surreal British comedy in the vein of Monty Python or Fawlty Towers, James P. Blaylock???s Homunculus will fit the bill nicely. Published in 1986, this is one of the earlier steampunk novels. In fact, Blaylock, along with friends K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers, all of whom studied with Philip K. Dick, are considered fathers of modern steampunk, and it was Jeter who coined the term to describe their work.

    Homunculus won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1986.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Rowan W. Smith
    Bay Area, California
    06/02/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Juggling chain saws and custard pies"
    What did you love best about Homunculus?

    Blaylock is one of the few writers I've read who can effectively combine so many contrasting effects, making the whole much greater than any one part. His scenes use horror and slapstick, (sometime together; for example, the resurrection scene with the peafowl and the piano), disappointment, joy, excitement, tenderness, mystery (with and without a capital M), wonder. There are moments where grotesque evil triumphs, moments where the outcome of choices are morally ambiguous, there are scenes filled with adventure, despair and, finally, a satisfying resolution that leaves the door open for new adventures. As I said in the headline, his writing is like watching someone juggling chainsaws and custard pies. You never know if the next page will bring tragedy or helpless laughter. As to plot, well, it's unusual, to say the least, and part of the pleasure is trying to determine exactly what it is. Blaylock does not write typical fantasy stories with simple words drawing clear lines from simple beginning A to simple ending B, with the obligatory 1000 pages in-between filled with vampire love, magic swords, bloody battles, and black-or-white choices. He includes lots of conflict, defeats and victories. Just not what you are expecting if your usual reading consists of Tolkien-knockoffs and 5000 page "epics." Try Blaylock, and keep a very open mind. Heed Coleridge, and employ "the willing suspension of disbelief" and so awaken " the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us." Fits Mr. Blaylock's stories to a T.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Two that stand out for me are Shiloh, the messiah, and Bill Kraken, sometime grave robber and squid monger. Blaylock writes great characters, if you approach him without preconceptions. His secondary characters are terrific; and they are all woven inextricably into the fabric of the tale. Blaylock writes very unique, large-than-life characters, such as Narbondo, the evil genius. But even better, he writes Everyman characters who, through their actions, show that greatness has always been within; that each person is unique and not a stock actor. Yet Blaylock never moralizes; he let's action and dialogue take their course without telling the reader "look how noble this person is."


    What does Nigel Carrington bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He had the right feel for the story and the characters. He gave each character a clearly identifiable voice, but more than that, he incorporated the emotions and thoughts of each one into the narration. His voice trembles when someone feels strong emotion, sounding outraged, afraid, uncertain, or enlightened, as the situation requires. When people are bored, they sound bored. Carrington adds pauses, varies the tones and changes the pace to fit the action and situation. This was the first time I have heard him, and it will not be the last. A fine talent.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Again, it's hard to pick out just one moment. His scenes move from the informative to the horrifying to the comic to the thrilling. I don't want to describe any in detail, as I dislike spoilers.


    Any additional comments?

    Blaylock is under-appreciated. I would really like it if Audible offered his non-Narbondo/St. Ives books, such as "The Land of Dreams", "The Paper Grail", "The Elfin Ship" or "Night Relics."Finally, try his short stories. Many are wonderful. "Paper Dragons," which won a World Fantasy Award, is a good starting place to see how you like his style.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Matthew Heckler
    GLENWOOD, IL, United States
    21/05/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "One of the most painfully boring novels ever."
    What disappointed you about Homunculus?

    There is absolutely no momentum to the novel whatsover--- it just feels like a bunch of English people sitting aroudn being English-- and not even amusingly.


    What was most disappointing about James Blaylock’s story?

    Everything-- More than two hours into the novel it felt as thought nothing at all had happened, and none of the characters were even remotely likable. I despised this novel.


    What aspect of Nigel Carrington’s performance would you have changed?

    His performance is fine-- It fits the tone of the novel, which is stuffy and English.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    This is supposed to be one of the key novels in the development of steampunk. If this were the only novel to push steampunk into existance, I can't see how the genre would still exist. Why would anyone want to replicate this?

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Christofer
    United States
    05/12/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Nice setting, but I couldn't get into the story."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    A plot in whic I cared about any of the characters.
    The action was too often distracted with detailed world-descriptions.


    What was most disappointing about James P Blaylock’s story?

    I wanted the characters to just get on with it rather than spending so long on the rich descriptions.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Homunculus?

    Leave it as-is. It's just not my style.


    Any additional comments?

    Beautifully detailed world. I could easily see, smell and taste it!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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