The first thing I'd like to say about "The Witches of Chiswick" is that the writing style feels like a hark back to the classic Rankin books, I meant those of the Brentford Trilogy (now in 5 parts) & the Armageddon trilogy (still only in 3 parts). That is not to say the plots are re-hashed or that Rankin is riding on past glories, because that in certainly not that case. It's just that this new novel has a creative spark which was so apparent in those earlier works. It could almost be viewed as a follow up to "The Suburban Book of the Dead" whilst by no means being a direct sequel.
"The Witches..." features a veritable cavalcade of intriguing characters, some of which are new creations, like Will Starling (and the other 3 different Will Starlings), his bestest friend & confidant Tim McGregor and the Brentford Snail Boy. Some are now familiar names to us, such as the legendary Hugo Rune & the even more legendary Barry the talking time-traveling Holy Guardian Sprout. And some are famous historical characters, including H. G. Wells, The Elephant Man & Queen Victoria (Gawd Bless her), none of whom are quite as you may expect.
But moving on to the story and what a story it is. Part of the plot is set in a grim and brooding alternate future where life is tough, but there are a few suspicious traces of super advanced Victorian innovations that shouldn't be and that these are being erased. Our heroes also discover hints of a utopian future that may yet come to pass if the big conspiracy is uncovered. But the majority of the story is set back in the Victorian era itself, where things are very different from what history had told us they are like. A cabal of Witches seem to be bent on altering their present and as such destroying any other future that is to come, for their own evil ends.
If you are not a fan of the more complex & challenging works of Robert Rankin then this new one may not be quite the book for you. But if, like me, you adore those convoluted plots with constant twists & turns, then believe me, this is an absolute blinder. His greatest novel since "Armageddon the Musical" to my mind. The book itself is set to become part of a new series; Robert even ends the story with words to the effect:
"And that should be the end of our tale. If it wasn't for a few loose ends, 5 loose ends in fact. Which probably means it isn't the end, but only the beginning of a great deal more."
And if rumor is set to become fact then we can expect the second part to be closely related to the Original Brentford books and I can hardly wait to find out where this magical journey will take us next...
Reviewed by Andi Evans