Mordew ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids, as Elton John nearly sang. If they escape the ravages of lung worm, then they could stray into the Living Mud — a foul, oozing substance that spawns barely animate beings called ‘dead-life’. That’s if they avoid being packed off to serve the Master, the city’s Grand Inquisitor, who broods in his Manse, demanding regular tributes of children, his magic twitching throughout Mordew.
The world of Alex Pheby’s fourth novel is dizzying. But stick with it, and his splicing of Dickensian social satire and rackety, steampunk fantasy is beguiling. The titular city is exuberantly realised, the sort of setting H.P. Lovecraft and Hogarth might cook up on a mescaline binge.
Our young hero is Nathan Treeves, a scamp from the wrong side of the Glass Road, the dividing line that separates the city’s haves and have-nots.