The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, had been out a good dozen years when I first read it in 1995 or so. Published in 1983 and winner of the Philip K. Dick award, this landmark steampunk novel is the story of Brendan Doyle, an English professor who finds himself trapped in a 19th century alternate London where ghosts lurk in the shadows, magicians vie for power over old gods and time travel gates, and guilds of penniless beggars and confidence tricksters scramble to pick up any crumbs dropped by the wealthier and more magically privileged classes of their intensely stratified society.
In The Anubis Gates, Doyle runs afoul of a magician, Amenophis Fikee, more widely known as Dog-Face Joe. As a side-effect of a magical rituals gone wrong, Joe has become a grotesquely intimate form of serial killer. Every so often he must switch bodies, taking possession of a new victim. His new host immediately begins to grow a dense pelt of all-over body hair.
When he can no longer pass unremarked in society, Joe poisons the hairy old host, discarding it and moving on to his next target.
It is the hunt for Joe that consumes another character Doyle encounters in this novel, a beggar named Jacky Snapp. Though “he” is passing as a young moustachioed man, Jacky is in reality a young woman of noble birth. Her fiancé, Colin, was one of the many people Joe murdered. Unlike Professor Doyle, he failed to survive his poisoning.
All of which brings us to Nobody’s Home, the brand new novella set in the The Anubis Gates universe. The story recounts an earlier episode from Jacky’s career—after she begins her hunt for Dog-Face Joe and vengeance, but before Doyle arrives on the scene. Issued by Subterranean Press this December and beautifully illustrated, inside and out, by J.K. Potter, this story gives us Jacky only a month after her beloved Colin showed up on her doorstep, looking monstrous, fatally poisoned and unable to speak because Joe had mangled his tongue. Her grief and self-recrimination are fresh, and her quest for revenge is barely off the ground.
Now she haunts the streets, learning the confidence trickster trade, running down rumors and searching for hairy men, and maintaining a blessedly distant connection to Colin’s spirit by carrying his ashes in a flask around her neck. Unfortunately, she isn’t the only one with ghosts to exorcise. As Nobody’s Home begins, her hunt leads to a chance encounter with Harriet, a widow whose dead husband wants her to perform sattee. He is willing to set her afire himself if she won’t do the deed.
Jacky’s Colin and Harriet’s husband Moraji get entangled, and the experience rejuvenates both ghosts. Soon the women are fleeing, with two ghosts in hot pursuit. Harriet’s problem is simple: avoid death by fire. As for Jacky, she might prefer death to having to speak to Colin again. And it becomes apparent soon enough that Colin does want, rather desperately, to have just one more conversation.
Fortunately, one of Jacky’s fellow beggars tells them their only chance is a mysterious entity named Nobody. All they have to do is find the riverbarge where he makes his home, then pay the blood price required to induce him to get rid of both spirits.
Tim Powers’ work is always a pleasure to read: his writing is supple and has an enviable clarity, and Jacky is an intriguing character. It’s nice to see her holding centre stage in this piece, to savor her budding friendship with Harriet and see her taking the first steps in the unforgiving man’s world in which she has chosen to make her way. Her sense of guilt and her fury over Colin’s terrible death are utterly believable, and this whole piece expands nicely on the character we see in The Anubis Gates.
As for the mysterious Nobody, he makes a deliciously chilling exorcist: the ladies’ encounter with him is spine-tingling.
Nobody’s Home is an introduction—if you haven’t read been there before—to the universe of The Anubis Gates. If you have, it’s a double dose of time travel magic: it’ll return you to that alternate London, of course, but it’ll also take you back to the moment when you first set foot in this dark and remarkable imagined reality.
Nobody’s Home is available now from Subterranean Press
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com, including the time travel horror story “The Color of Paradox.” There’s also “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti,” the second of a series of stories called The Gales. Both this story and its predecessor, “Among the Silvering Herd,” are prequels to her Tor novel, Child of a Hidden Sea.
If sailing ships, pirates, magic and international intrigue aren’t your thing, though, her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Or check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” a tie-in to the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.