It offers all the motifs that genre fans expect (superbly-detailed worlds, an endless cast, intelligent concepts) whilst delivering enough to satisfy mainstream readers and newcomers alike (humour, lovable characters, snappy dialogue, action and more). This is a difficult balance to achieve but Iain Grant treads the fine line without slipping.
The plot may feel familiar to those who have read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials: a young girl with a particular talent and famous parents must travel between worlds with eclectic companions to achieve her destiny, whilst fleeing a totalitarian power. However, being compared to Pullman's award-winning trilogy is by no means a bad thing and it will be interesting to see how Grant develops this into a trilogy over the next few years.
Where Grant excels is the sheer generosity of his writing. A lesser writer may have held back some of the great ideas on offer here for a future book. Instead, Grant provides high quality concepts at a dizzying rate. The pages are packed with memorable characters, moments, one-liners and twists. The reader will be rewarded with Tolkien-esque detail. Each world is drawn with its own religions, histories, environments and people, although thankfully Grant is more concise in his description than Tolkien.
Going into specifics would detract from the constant surprises of the tale but, suffice it to say, this is a novel of demons and krakens, of circus assassins and clones, of dying worlds and hidden worlds. There is a Library the size of a city housing sentient books and a world covered in garbage harbouring a missing pirate ship. Best of all, there is an army of killer toy dolls named the Penny Dreadfuls which appear just in time for the novel's climatic battle.
The revelations towards the end offer much reward for the reader and you will certainly be left wanting more.