The Wanderer in Unknown Realms by John Connolly

I am a fan of inexpensive and innovative writing delivered electronically so I am a fan of the Kindle Single program and have read a few books in that format. I picked up John Connolly‘s The Wanderer in Unknown Realms because I enjoyed, or was at least intrigued by, The Book of Lost Things and The Gates. And given it only cost 99 cents I figured why not check it out.

Publisher synopsis:

“Books alter men, and men, in their turn, alter worlds.”

Soter is a man who has been haunted by World War I. But when he’s sent to investigate the disappearance of Lionel Maudling, the owner of a grand country house whose heir may be accused for his death, he encounters a home that will lead him to nightmares he could have never imagined.

Maudling’s estate houses countless books of every sort—histories, dramas, scientific treatises. But none seems to offer Soter any hint to Maudling’s whereabouts, until he’s led to an arcane London bookseller where the reclusive scholar made his last purchase. What Soter finds at the end of a twisted maze of clues is a book like no other, with a legacy that will put everything he knows in danger…

It turns out I had a very similar reaction to this John Connolly production as I did to the previous two. It was intriguing and well done in many ways but also felt like it didn’t quite work, in my opinion. The beauty of the Kindle Singles program, however, is that you expect a certain amount of that and having only spent a dollar you don’t feel the level of disappointment you might with a full length hardcover novel for example.

The set up is excellent and Connolly really builds the atmosphere and tension. There is an interesting cast of characters and enough mystery to keep you reading and guessing.  It often seems like a traditional type mystery only to take a weird and horrifying turn.  But as many reviewers have noted, the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. This has the potential to ruin the enjoyment of the rest of the story.

It had the feel, to me, of an experiment that didn’t quite work; a build up that didn’t deliver on expectations.  You really wanted the story to deliver a climax and then play out at least some of the aftermath and loose ends.  You had invested in the characters and their backstory and personality only to have the end remove the possibility to see the plot played out fully.  I suppose you could make the argument that this path would change the work from novella to straight up novel, but I think the story feels like it had the potential to be a powerful novel and as a result the novella felt cut short.

I am not a big reader of horror but it also seemed less true horror and more atmospherical in that genre. This is not a criticism as I am not sure I would enjoy true horror type stories and I enjoyed the atmosphere Connolly creates and they way the horror aspects jump out at you because of their rareness.

So all in all an enjoyable read but one that ended unexpectedly and left me feeling like their could have been more.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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