Daniel O’Thunder by Ian Weir

This review is part of a campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a  a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. While I do think that books readily lend themselves to green practices in that they can be recycled to other users for hundreds of years, why not make them more so where possible? I read and buy enough books that it has crossed my mind about the number of trees involved in supporting my habit.

The paper on which I read my book was top quality, the pages thick and creamy, and had I not been reading this expressly for testing purposes, I would have been none the wiser as to the origins of this paper- made completely from post consumer recycled paper. In the interests of full disclosure it worthwhile to note that the price on this hardcover is $29.95, about four or five dollars more than the average retail price listed on a hardcover book.

Daniel O’Thunder by Ian Weir is published by Douglas &  MacIntyre,  printed on acid free paper that is forest friendly (100% post-consumer waste recycled paper)  and has been processed chlorine-free. It’s also an absorbing book which plunges you right into the seedy heart of 19th century London, where a Ripper like killer is on the loose and preying on young prostitutes and other undesirable members of society. When a young boy whom Daniel O’Thunder, a former prize fighter who is currently an evangelist for God, knows is hanged for a crime which he didn’t commit Daniel returns to prize fighting with the ultimate goal of taking down the most wily and dangerous opponent that he has ever faced, the Devil himself.

This probably is not a book that I would have chosen on my own. It appears from the cover that it is mentioning very serious subjects mixed in with comedy.  Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows that I am very leery of books attempting humor because I think they don’t come off well.  I had a shaky start with this one. There are a lot of weird occurrences and characters in the beginning and I wasn’t sure who is who. The Devil is either his own physical entity, a general embodiment of the masses of people or maybe one of the  particular characters that are being introduced, and it is up to the reader to figure it all out.  Characters whom you have already met may reappear as someone else being that the book is populated with thieves and liars.

I was very confused in the beginning and there were some instances of oddly placed and confusing humor. I don’t think I would have stuck this one out without having a reason to do so, but then I  got sucked in by the characters and I wanted to see how their stories would turn out. Does Daniel succeed in taking down the Devil?  Does Nell, the feisty prostitute, find her mother?  Will Jaunty Rennert, supposedly a friend of Daniel’s, ever act in Daniel best interest? What is Lord Sculthorpe’s deal anyway?

This novel is a really good example of how you can build a novel and its characters through skillful use of dialogue (another of my pet peeves- too much dialogue, again usually because I don’t think a lot of dialogue), so I wasn’t surprised to find that Weir is also a screenwriter of note.  The characters accents and language were gritty and authentic and reflective of the educational backgrounds and lifestyle of those who were from the poorer parts of society.  I was fascinated at the description of the brutality of not only the prize fighting but the lives of the characters.  The sights and smell of the city were vivid, and I laughed at how upset some of the criminals were to find that they themselves have been preyed upon- at one point a watch is stolen from someone who had just that evening stolen the same watch!

This novel excels at creating a cast of characters living lives in such poverty and subjected to that which most of us can only imagine.  It was also easy to see how those living in these circumstances would have found someone like O’Thunder to be very charismatic and worth following.  Amidst the colorful characters, language, dark humor and nefarious lifestyles, the plot gently unfolds until you find yourself in the midst of a compelling story with high stakes and an even higher potential for betrayal and tragedy.

The use of Nell, Jack and Jaunty as symbols of the flawed disciples was clever, and I liked that Daniel’s flaws were well acknowledged and considered.  The explorations into notions of evil and the Devil proved to be a rich juxtaposition to Daniel and his ideas about God “saving” people and fighting evil (I did find Daniel’ speeches, platitudes and simple protestations to be a little tiresome).  When you add in the boxing angle this was a rich and gritty portrayal of a time in England and in history which we tend to romanticize, and a page turner that had me biting my nails at the end while I awaited the end of the novel. It’s a read that I had to work for, but it was really worth it.  Not my usual fare, but I was so glad I read this one.

Have you read in books lately that you didn’t initially think you would enjoy only to find they had you by the shirt tails?  What book was it and what finally grabbed you?

Leave a Comment