Any book that markets itself as “in the tradition of Neil Gaiman” is setting the bar very high. It’s a bar Robert Levy’s debut novel The Glittering World doesn’t quite reach.
Set amongst Canada’s picturesque forests in an ex-commune by the beach, The Glittering World is the story of Michael ‘Blue’ Whitley, a charismatic yet idealistic chef returning to Starling Cove to sell his recently deceased Grandmother’s house. With him he takes his ‘best friend’ Elisa, her husband, and Gabe, a twenty year old staffer from his restaurant. Soon, Blue finds evidence of a forgotten childhood and strange supernatural happenings, and everyone is drawn towards the mountain.
The opening of The Glittering World is somewhat overwritten, perhaps because of Levy’s past as a playwright. By the first page, Blue’s unrequited love for the married Elisa is so clear and so gooey it feels like a honey trap. Levy goes to great lengths to emphasise how special Blue is right from the get go, but for the most part he’s actually quite dull. Elisa, her husband and Gabe aren’t much better, each fitted loosely with a handful of character traits and oft referenced pasts. The characters are reasonably mitigated by the quick pacing and Levy’s vivid descriptions, which manage to keep the reader interested. The sense of adventure and freedom that comes with the quartet’s initial road trip and evening in Starling Cove is clearly the calm before the storm, but the set up of Blue’s mysterious past is fun and engaging.
Reader responses to the shift in tone that comes with the change of perspective will vary depending on what you want from your fantasy fiction. The light hearted easy going atmosphere that surrounds Blue’s chapters vanishes as he does. In its place step conspiracy theories, distrust and a creeping sense of supernatural thrill. Blue is a far more interesting character in light of his effects on those closest to him. Levy’s writing extends beyond vivid descriptions into visceral images and the emptiness of the characters becomes uncanny, the world around them refracting. By the time Gabe is the “protagonist” it is finally evident why a publicist might seek to place Levy near Gaiman; the eerie tone of Gabe’s section echoing much of Gaiman’s short fiction.
What Levy does with the myth of “the other kind” is not particularly innovative, but it is enough of a shift away from childish depictions of fairies and their adult horror counterparts to be clever and feel different. Like many debut fantasy/speculative fiction novels, The Glittering World is at its weakest in the real world and its best in the unfamiliar world the author has created.
The Glittering World is published by Gallery Books and is available from February 10th, 2015.