Arnold Bennett's five towns expand to the nightmare 'Hundred-Towns' in Emery's Smog Punk novel 'Necromantra' from Immanion.
Writer, dramatist and Keele University tutor Phil Emery's novel more than redresses Arnold Bennett's reduction of Stoke-on-Trent's six towns to five. Phil's novel 'Necromantra' takes place in his alternate and fantasy potteries; 'The Hundred-Towns'. Phil describes his novel as Arnold Bennett meets Edgar Allen Poe in Burslem. 'Necromantra' is a gothic adventure where the dead are returned to life, ghosts haunt gravediggers and nameless forces lie in wait deep beneath the cobbled streets in a murky nineteenth century world of pot-banks, pits, and canals.
Stoke on Trent, The Potteries, famed for their tableware, yes, but porcelain also receives your used food. Emery's novel is set in a nasty, squalid, exaggeration of its model, and quoting Storm Constantine, "heaving with smog and phantoms and arcane terms for machinery and mining - and a host of debilitating conditions and diseases!"
Emery's 'Hundred-Towns' are also a bureaucracy where records can't be wrong so when someone dies they are gone and there are rectifiers to ensure no documents need be disturbed if they return to life. Obviously rectification would not be necessary in normal times but times are not so normal and Jem is a frighteningly effective rectifier despite a mining accident leaving him minus an arm.
"Jem looked out over the Hundred-Towns - over the smoggy terraces, pitheads, manufactories, slaughterhouses, workhouses, shardrucks, the black swellings of other slag heaps. Over the furry points of streetlamp light. Over the ruddy patchwork of furnaces toiling to power countless engines, all night, all day, every night, every day. Over the thousands upon thousands of chimneys. Town after town, all grouted into one with grime."
Jem is an efficient rectifier but falling for a girl who raises the dead is not a good career move. His mission to save her takes them through the canals, hospitals, streets and mines of his fantasy potteries; polluted cities, set under murky skies in dank northern climes, (so no change there then) and enveloped in fog and the stench of spoil tips. The hacking coughs of its disease ridden citizens echo across kiln shadowed cobblestones, its beggars are crippled by terrible industrial accidents, its animals are cruelly used, its hospitals are horrifyingly unclean and its mines are abandoned to ghosts. As its author admitted "So not too many laughs," but an exciting story that kept me up far too late just to finish reading.