Back in July, Fletcher Vredenburgh reviewed the opening novel in Jeffrey E. Barlough’s Western Lights series here at Black Gate.
I’m not exactly sure what made me buy Dark Sleeper… I’m thinking it was more the Jeff Barson painting of woolly mammoths pulling a coach across a dark, snow swept landscape. Whatever the reason, I’m happy I did, as the book turned out to be a very strange and often funny trip through a weird and fantastical post-apocalyptic alternate reality.
In Barlough’s fictional world the Ice Age never fully ended. With much of its north covered by ice and snow, medieval England sent its ships out around the world looking for new lands… With great cities such as Salthead and Foghampton (located around the same places as Seattle and San Francisco), the western colonies flourished and expanded. Then, in 1839, terror struck from the heavens… Something crashed into the Earth, and almost instantly, all life except in the western colonies, was obliterated and the Ice Age intensified. Now, one hundred and fifty years later, the “the sole place on earth where lights still shine at night is in the west.”…
For nearly twenty years now Barlough has been creating a truly unique series that has seems to have escaped too many readers’ attention… If you have the slightest affinity for the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, or the steampunk works of Tim Powers and James Blaylock, then I highly recommend Dark Sleeper.
The ninth novel in the series, Where the Time Goes, sees Dr. Hugh Callander return home to find the town of Dithering gripped by fear. Livestock are being lost, and townsfolk are mysteriously disappearing. Is it poachers, thieves or murderers? Or might the ancient tales of a ravenous beast in the nearby cavern of Eldritch’s Cupboard be true? Where the Time Goes arrives in trade paperback from Gresham & Doyle on October 31st.
I was introduced to the work of Jeffrey E. Barlough by BG reviewer Jackson Kuhl, who wrote the following in his 2011 review of the fifth volume in the series, Anchorwick.
His alternate 20th century, called the Western Lights, has a sophisticated backstory that’s easier to link to than for me to explain, but I’ll try: in a world where the Ice Age never ended, a cataclysm has reduced humanity to a slip of English civilization along North America’s western coastline. It’s neither steampunk nor weird western; the technology is early 19th century. It’s kinda-sorta gaslamp fantasy, except there doesn’t seem to be any natural gas. Barlough’s creation is best described as a Victorian Dying Earth — gothic and claustrophobic yet confronted by its inhabitants with upper lips held stiff.
As the books are fantasy mysteries, the less said about their plots, the better. In Anchorwick, Eugene Stanley has come to the university at Salthead (a parallel Seattle? Vancouver?) to assist his professor uncle in preparing a book manuscript. One night, while working in a deserted turret room at the college — whose previous occupant, a colleague of the uncle, enigmatically vanished two years prior — Stanley is accosted by a phantasmal form. This ignites a definitive search for the missing don as Stanley and friends uncover lost civilizations, ancestral curses, whole companies of ghosts, monsters from Greek myth, and a few red herrings, all told in rich, dryly humorous style. It’s P.G. Wodehouse with woolly mammoths.
There are nine books in the Western Lights series so far.
- Dark Sleeper (DAW, September 1, 2000)
- The House in the High Wood (DAW, August 1, 2001)
- Strange Cargo (DAW, August 3, 2004)
- Bertram of Butter Cross (Gresham & Doyle, August 1, 2007)
- Anchorwick (Gresham & Doyle, October 31, 2008)
- A Tangle in Slops (Gresham & Doyle, March 2, 2011)
- What I Found at Hoole (Gresham & Doyle, November 1, 2012)
- The Cobbler of Ridingham (Gresham & Doyle, November 25, 2014)
- Where The Time Goes (Gresham & Doyle, October 31, 2016)
Over the years we’ve covered most of the books in the series.
Dark Sleeper, reviewed by Fletcher Vredenburgh
Vintage Treasures: The House in the High Wood
Vintage Treasures: Strange Cargo
Anchorwick, reviewed by Jackson Kuhl
New Treasures: Jeffrey E. Barlough’s What I Found at Hoole
Future Treasures: The Cobbler of Ridingham
New Treasures: The Cobbler of Ridingham
Cataclysms, Ghosts and Monsters: An Interview With Jeffrey E. Barlough by Jackson Kuhl
Where the Time Goes will be published by Gresham & Doyle on October 31, 2016. It is 331 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition. The cover is from A Garden in Shoreham by Samuel Palmer (1805-81).
See all of our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.