Anchorwickis the fifth and newest novel in Jeffrey Barlough’s Western Lights series. The series is set some centuries after the “sundering” which has separated a cluster of counties inhabited by what seem to be early-Victorian Englishmen from the rest of the world and strangely plunged them into what seems to be the Pleistocene ice-age, complete with mastodons, sabretooths, megatheres and short-faced bears. The background has elements of mythology and the supernatural and a bit of a Lovecraftian feel, with a writing style which is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Dickens. It’s both very British and at the same time very strange.
In Anchorwick, ,young Eugene Stanley is visiting Salthead University to help his uncle, Professor Greenshields, complete work on a book. While there he gets caught up in the disappearance of Professor Haygarth and takes the lead in ultimately retrieving the professor from a shadowy otherworld and then subsequently assisting in the investigation of the background of the events which opened the gateway to that world. More than most of the other books in the series, Anchorwick explores some of the background and mythology of the setting, while providing a strong narrative, interesting characters and a mystery to solve.
It’s a good read and more satisfying than the previous entry in the series, Bertram of Butter Cross, which lacked both a main character and much of a storyline, though it was as enjoyable as 200 pages of pure atmosphere can be. Anchorwick has some peculiarities. It’s really more like two novellas with the same characters stuck together and related only by some overlapping themes and characters. It also has interesting enough characters that you’d like to see them carry over into a sequel or two, but Barlough makes it fairly clear that further adventures are not in the cards. Nonetheless, the book is interesting and different and if you like supernatural, dickensian, alternate-universe murder mysteries then you’ll probably find something to like in Anchorwick.