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Fleen Book Corner: Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules

I neglected to note that yesterday was Amuletmas, the day that Kazu Kibuishi’s many readers have been waiting for anxiously for going on two years. Yesterday was the release of the eighth Amulet book, Supernova, picking up at the biggest cliffhanger of the series, setting up the big finish in (the still in the planning stages) book 9. Fantasy becomes sci-fi! Space! The darkest hour with a protagonist fallen to the dark influences of the Big Bad! I’ll be picking up a copy as soon as humanly possible, and reporting back.


Not released this week, or even all that recently, the focus of today’s post is Delilah Dirk And The Pillars Of Hercules, third in that series, by Tony Cliff. As always, we at Fleen would like to thank :01 Books for providing a review copy.

TPOH is a slightly odd read; what I mean by that is it doesn’t follow what we expect from a third book in a series. So many books are conceived of and sold explicitly as trilogies — thanks, Tolkien — that we expect the books to perhaps work more as parts of that larger arc of story and less as standalone efforts. Sometimes the books really do stand on their own while also functioning as parts of the whole (Ben Hatke’s Zita The Spacegirl and Faith Erin Hicks’s The Nameless City are good examples), sometimes they form multitrilogies (such as Amulet, and, I suspect, Cleopatra In Space by Mike Maihack).

But Miss Dirk and her faithful companion Mr Selim have an entirely different feel. The books definitely form a sequence, but there’s no feeling of beginning, middle, end. If Cliff had released the second book first, then the first as a flashback, then the third, they would not lose anything for the jumbling. Perhaps appropriate to the time they take place in — Europe and the Mediterranean slightly post-Napolean, with England and France vying for influence and enough unexplored places that adventurers need not follow set paths — there’s a sense of loose connection.

The best analogy I can think of is Dickens wrote a bunch of stories that did not connect to each other, but which take place in the same world. There’s no doubt in my mind that young Ebenezer Scrooge lived in one of the Two Cities, but cared not a whit what was happening in the other. The connections are of sensibility, not plot. One story tells what happens to other people, in a different place, at a different time, but in the same world. Their individual stories are the point, not how they cross over.

Which is why I see TPOH less as a sequel, and more as a continuation of a story that’s not really dependent on what came before. Oh, sure, the second book (The King’s Shilling) introduced the best kind of antagonist — the bullheaded jerk who gets shown up and rather than take the L, doubles down every possible chance, abandoning all reason, assuming his nemesis is as obsessed with him as he is with them — but if he’d shown up for the first time in TPOH with a half-page aside about how he’d been a thorn in Miss Dirk’s side ever since that earlier conflict a few years ago, nothing would be lost. The first book (The Turkish Lieutenant) is wide-ranging heist and condequences, the second is a prodigal returns home story mixed with a jerk who just won’t let a minor insult go, the third is part archeology (and dealing with insufferable patrons) and part revenge story. What they have in common is the setting, the timeframe, and the two protagonists.

Then again, Miss Dirk would probably say protagonist and sidekick.

Mr Selim — less sidekick, more voice of reason when Miss Dirk is taken by flights of fancy, desire to kick and ass that desperately needs it, or is just being reckless because she can — really comes into his own in this book. He’s gone from inciting McGuffin in book one (he’s the titular Turkish Lieutenant) that kicks off the plot to almost-but-not-quite-acknowledged equal (especially after book 2, when even Delilah’s disapproving family determined that nobody can make the tea quite like he can). There’s a meeting of the minds here, and they come to a new stage in their relationship.

That word is fraught, and what they have barely recognizable by its modern connotations. They’re traveling companions, they’re becoming friends¹, the respect is deepened, and it’s possibly become an always-will-be chaste life partnership in that neither will ever really be happy without the other, but it’s not a romance. You’d have to use a language other than English, which has multiple words for different kinds of love, to truly describe them. Not quite brotherly-sisterly², more than traveling companions, definitely not getting
(as Ray Smuckles would have it) mad rutty. It’s platonic, in both the sense that there’s no erotic feelings, but also in the sense that this is an ideal for respectful partnerships. They complete each other.

And so the adventure itself almost doesn’t matter. Oh, there’s derring-do and comeuppance and you’ll boo and hiss the villainous turns, fear not. This book doesn’t feel like a wrap-up any more than it feels like a beginning or middle. It’s all happening now, there have been adventures before, there will be adventures hence, and we’ll read some of them and others we won’t as Delilah Dirk and Erdemoglu Selim spend their days at adventure, forever.

Spam of the day:

Formuláře Google

Huh. A countdown timer letting me know that my very special opportunity (in Russian) will expire in 22:15:30. Weirdly, every time I open the email, it starts over again. Odd, that.

¹ Miss Dirk has always been a bit haughty towards Mr Selim.

² But if it were, it would definitely somewhat staid older brother being run over by a wild younger sister.

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