Procession of the Dead comes from the Incan word Ayuamarca, which literally translated gives the book its title. It is also the Incan name for the month of November, and the title of the novel’s 11th chapter. In fact all of the chapter titles are taken from the Incan names for the months. It is a clever hook that Shan bases his narrative on; were the reader so inclined, they could research and dissect the minutia that Shan has layered into what was in 1999 his first novel. Sadly, I was not so inclined.
Capac Raimi arrives in the city (it is always just referred to as “the city”) to be a gangster with his Uncle Theo. Uncle Theo was a big deal in his youth, when he ran with “The Pacinos”, but has since faded to doing smalltime protection rackets. Capac’s arrival quickly changes things. Before long, they have attracted the attention of The Cardinal. The Cardinal is the near mythic crime lord who rules the city, and his attention is not rarely a good thing. Those who displease him disappear so thoroughly that their own families never remember they existed.
As Capac works his way up into the good graces of The Cardinal’s family, he comes to understand how little he knows of himself. But it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to The Cardinal and his city than Capac initially realized. His master isn’t satisfied with ruling the city, or an empire. The Cardinal wishes to be God, and Capac is tangled in the plot to bring this mad dream to fruition. Capac Raimi finds himself last on a list of names marking the Ayuamarcans, those vital to The Cardinal’s plans. Most have been crossed off, but not Capac, and Capac Raimi is Incan for December. He is the last Ayuamarcan, if only he knew what it meant.
This story could have made a great crime novel with supernatural overtones, rather than a mediocre fantasy with horror and crime elements. While I am all for having the reader experience the magic as the protagonist does, it just takes too long for Procession of the Dead to feel like a fantasy novel. Having not read the original printing, I cannot speak to the “thorough revision” Procession has undergone at the author’s hands since its first publication. It also feels like a novel strangely out of time. Capac Raimi makes cultural references to Trading Places, Dallas, Bjorn Borg, The Graduate, all of which seem a bit dated for a character of Capac’s twenty seven or “thereabouts” years.
It is hard to say if the fault lies with the author here, or with how his publishers chose to market the book. Shan certainly has talent. That fact is undeniable. He has a real gift for turning a phrase, such as with the book’s opening: “If The Cardinal pinched the cheeks of his arse, the walls of the city bruised. They were that close, Siamese twins, joined by a wretched, twisted soul.” Procession of the Dead is proclaimed as a gritty urban fantasy, Shan is even likened to Neil Gaiman. Gritty it certainly is, but this is no Neverwhere. While Shan and Procession of the Dead held my interest well enough to see me to the novel’s end, I was left with little desire to read the next books in The City Trilogy.
reviewed by Direach Barimen