Paranormal YA writer Darren Shan gives us his adult fiction debut with Procession of the Dead, the first book in his City trilogy. It is a truly curious book, and undoubtedly not for everyone. The very things that I enjoyed about it–the lack of concrete geographical location, the odd characters, and the varied pace of the novel–may frustrate other readers. All the same, it has its merits, and it’s at least worth a try.
Categorizing this book under a particular genre was troublesome, to say the least. It’s obviously fantasy, which is the broadest possible heading, but trying to narrow it down into a subgenre is more difficult. It has elements of magic, myth, suspense, urban fiction, and crime fiction. It blends these things together to create a unique and engaging story with an unexpected ending.
The ambitious Capac Raimi arrives in the City to begin his life as a gangster. Once there, however, he is quickly pulled into the world of the Cardinal–the man who controls every aspect of the City and the people within it. As Capac becomes one of the Cardinal’s favorites, he finds himself faced with new challenges, curious acquaintances, and strange mysteries. The people around him begin disappearing and, soon, his own origins come into question. To find out the truth, Capac must first discover what he is capable of and what he is willing to risk. Should the Cardinal become displeased, Capac might also become a missing person whose name no one can recall.
Initially, this book seems more crime thriller than fantasy. Except for a run-in with a blind Incan priest, Capac Raimi focuses on his training as a gangster under his Uncle Theo. It is not until he meets the Cardinal that the strangeness of the story becomes evident. The Cardinal himself is an unusual man, interested in puppets and harboring a berserker-like rage that can manifest unexpectedly. He is a man who believes in dreams and divination, and in using coincidences as opportunities.
Though the book begins at a quick pace, it slows during the first third in order to spend more time acclimating the reader and Capac to the surroundings. The City is never given a geographical location–it exists merely as a nebulous, enigmatic place that many people fear. But this should not disconcert the reader. It is best to imagine the City as its own entity, existing everywhere and nowhere, half in dreams but real enough to be known by people in the “normal” world.
The characters in this novel each have their own interesting quirks and personalities. In fact, Capac may, at first, seem the least interesting of the group. Over time, however, his individual qualities become more refined and, by the end, his personality is fully realized. It is this larger-than-life and somewhat ruthless Capac that I most liked, and though I am uncertain how he will factor into the next two books in the trilogy, I’m sure his presence will carry with it the same gravity that it gains at the end of this first book.
What I found most fascinating toward the middle and the end of the novel (though I will do my best not to spoil the surprise) is Shan’s use of magic. Not only was it not a form of magic that I had anticipated, but its source proved as much of a surprise. Suffice it to say that the blind priests in the story do serve a greater function, and little details from the beginning of the book come back as major points.
In truth, this book could have worked as a standalone novel. The ending ties up loose ends and offers a solid view of the future and Capac’s role in it. Since it is a trilogy, however, I’m sure that Shan has a few more tricks up his sleeve. No doubt he will continue the larger story with the same subtlety and surprises with which he told this one.