What sort of book is The Translated Man? We could throw labels like New Weird, Steampunk, Gothic Horror, Urban Fantasy, or even (ugh) Slipstream around, but I'm going with Lovecraftian Police Procedural.
This novel is the first by io9 commenter Chris Braak, who is also a noted blogger, feminist swordsman, dramaturge, and all-around smart feller. He's also at the bleeding edge of scifi publishing trends: He's cut out the publisher middleperson and made The Translated Man available for download at Lulu.com.
His tale is set in Trowth, city of sepulchral stillness abuntantly stocked with brooding towers and shadowy alleys. The Coroners' Division of the Imperial Gaurd protects the Empire from practitioners of forbidden metaphysical sciences on the mean streets of Trowth. Detective-Inspector Elijah Beckett has served with the Coroners for over thirty years battling necrologists, dream poisoners, and other misguided Mad Geniuses. In return for all his celebrated career he is now a drug-addict suffering from a truly horrible and original skin condition and more bad memories than you can shake a Hand of Glory at. Still the old man soldiers on, defending a city that has lost most of its young people to a protracted and costly foreign war all in the name of an Crown that Beckett has lost faith in.
Beckett is aided by two young capable subordinates: Valentine Vie-Gorgon, dissolute son of wealth and privilege and self-appointed Master of Disguise who has found purpose and excitement in the dangerous life of a Coroner; and Skinner, who uses her preternatural auditory powers as a Knocker to investigate crime scenes and must spend the life with her eyes sealed behind silver plates. Beckett, Valentine, and Skinner investigate a grisly multiple murder with links to an infamous experiment that terrified Trowth a century and half ago. Together with a young mathematical prodigy, they must solve the crime amidst a stranglingly oppressive bureaucracy, squabbling arrogant aristocrats, and the monsters and madness that regularly stalk the streets all while racial tensions between humans and nonhumans threaten to tear the city apart.
The city of Trowth is a fantastic creation reminiscent of China Miéville's New Crobuzon or maybe a grim, noir version of Pratchett's Ahnk-Morpork. Chris Braak has lovingly crafted centuries of detailed history that bring the city to creepy life. At times his expository passages slow the pace a tad but readers will enjoy learning about the Architecture War or the origins of the disenfranchised, snaggle-toothed sharpsie race that inhabits the worst slums of Trowth. Braak balances decidedly Dickensian descriptive writing with hard-boiled dialog reminiscent of Hammett or Chandler. Trowth is firmly steeped in Victorian sensibility but more egalitarian than Great Britain of that period. There's less class division, but loads more racism; perhaps it more resembles New York or Philadelphia of that era but with, y'know, Magic treated as Science and ruled by an Emperor.
The words eldritch, cyclopean, squamous or rugose never appear but there is a great deal of influence from H.P. Lovecraft. This is to be expected as Chris is quite the scholar of the Mythos although he is not scared of girls or Eskimos— excuse me, women or the Inuit. Don't expect world-devouring Great Old Ones, think more along the lines of "Pickman's Model", "The Hounds of Tindalos", or "The Nameless City". There is a Palpable Miasma of Dread throughout the book with plenty of Scary Monsters, always a plus.
"Write what you know" is an old saw that cuts true. Braak weaves in subjects he knows well, and he uses them to great effect: Antiquarian Writers, the Theater, Fencing, the Sweet Science. Chris Braak is an intelligent, imaginative, and evocative writer with great potential. The version of The Translated Man I read needs serious editing, but that is to be expected for a self-published work from a new author.. He is working on more books about Trowth, my new favorite Dark-Land-of-Make-Believe. I'm certain that an established publishing house will take a chance on this new talent. I urge any interested readers to give The Translated Man a try. You will be glad you did, and will be able to say, "I knew him when".
The Translated Man is available for purchase as a download or an analog version produced on a bound stack of thin rectangular planes of botanical fibers here.
Grey_Area is known as Chris Hsiang amongst the Earthlings. He means you no harm, he's just here for the books.