Up Jim River
First Line: This is her song, but she will not sing it, and so that task must fall to lesser lips.
Up Jim River is the sequel to Flynn’s 2008 novel The January Dancer (review), picking up almost immediately at where the first novel left off. Where The January Dancer was written as a story being told, sort of an extended flashback with brief interludes in the here and now, Up Jim River takes place entirely in the present. If you haven’t read The January Dancer you really ought to stop now and go ahead and do that. These are two books that are part of one story and reading one without first reading the other will not only deprive you of essential information but deny you the chance to experience Flynn’s masterful use of language from the start. Like The January Dancer before it Up Jim River uses a very poetic style that is more reminiscent of a fantasy novel rather than a futuristic space adventure. However where The January Dancer’s narrative style occasionally bogged down the plot Up Jim River maintains a laser focus on the here and now telling a tighter story, with deeper characterization, and without sacrificing any of the linguistic wonder that Flynn so easily captures.
In Up Jim River Mearana the Harper, daughter of the Hound known as Bridget Ban convinces the Scarred Man, sometimes known as Donovan sometimes known as the Fudir, to help her to track down her now missing mother. What ensues is equal parts mystery and adventure with a quest structure reminiscent of classic epic fantasy. This story really belongs heart and soul to the Scarred Man and the quest, while Mearana’s in name and intent, is as much about the Scarred Man’s own internal journey then it is about finding Bridget Ban.
As we learned in The January Dancer the Scarred Man known as Donovan has had his personality split into at least seven distinct personalities each in charge of various parts of his mind and body. There is the paranoid and careful Inner Child, the deducting and observant Sleuth, the aggressive Brute, the manipulative Silky Voice, and dry and intellectual Pedant, and the more fully formed personalities of Donovan and the Fudir. In Up Jim River some of the most potent writing comes from Donovan’s lengthy conversations with himself (each personality is given its own font type) and the indecision and physical manifestations of his inner struggle really drive home the broken nature of the man. Late in the novel, when Donovon is finally forced to confront his own brokenness and his various selves face-to-face unveils one of the most complicated and most stirring sections of the novel.
Up Jim River includes an interesting narrative device in that each of the worlds our character’s visit is typically introduced by an italicized section of text, a sort of scene setting description, that is separate from the greater narrative but sets the town for the world it describes. Flynn’s flair for language oozes from just about every sentence in the novel but, as mentioned above, never more so then in describing Donovan’s struggle:
Something subterranean rumbled with gigantic laughter, sending Inner Child scurrying in flight, silencing even the silent Donovan (for there is a silence more deep than mere quiet).
Each of him regarded himself to the extent that things unreal can regard anything. A fragment of an ancient poem brushed his mind too lightly for the words to alight; and a terrible foreboding took hold of him. An image of a shadow, slouching, at a distance, like a stranger seen under a lamppost under a foggy night. Dead, he thought; or part of him though. All tears are dust.
The language isn’t quite flowery but there is a certain cadence, a rhythm, to it that lends it a near mythic quality. In the passage above is the obvious, though obscured, reference to to Yeats; Second Coming and it is these half-remember, or incorrectly remembered bits of our own past that enhance that same sense of myth. Whether it be the great “sky gods” which count both Einstein and Planck amongst there number, the mysterious “mighty condrians” , or the wonder and mystery of “True Coriander” Flynn truly does an amazing job of scattering bits of our present and past across the universe creating an odd pastiche and strange amalgamations that are both familiar and wholly strange.
While the first two thirds of the novel are a planet hopping mystery adventure the final third most closely resembles a quest narrative as our now fully formed party of adventures takes a great journey into the wilderness in search of secrets from the now ancient past. There are even talking swords! Flynn’s ability to turn science fiction on its head, to give it the sound and feel of fantasy or myth is difficult to describe without experiencing it for yourself. Several reviews of Flynn’s work have compared him to Tolkein which is an apt one as he displays a similar ability to weave our own past and present into a mythology and world wholly his own. If you are looking for something a bit different then I highly highly recommend you give Michael Flynn a try for some truly wondrous reading. Also, on a last note, I must say I’m a bit tired of cliffhangers! Hurry up with that next book Flynn because I really want to know what happens next! Flynn doesn’t seem to be on twitter but he does have a fairly active livejournal that you can find over here so keep an eye out there for news on his next book.