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Mordew Reviews

Mordew by Alex Pheby


Alex Pheby

4.20 out of 5

4 reviews

Category: Fantasy, Fiction
Imprint: Galley Beggar Press
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press
Publication date: 13 Aug 2020
ISBN: 9781913111021

GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

3 stars out of 5
1 Sep 2020

"a harsh, improbable world that blends some of the tropes of young-adult fiction with both grim realism"

Alex Pheby’s dense fourth novel, Mordew, promises to be the first in a trilogy. This will certainly be needed in order to explore completely the world that the author has created in this initial instalment. His hero, Nathan Treeves, is a young boy living in the slums of Mordew, a sprawling, steampunk-tinged coastal city, with his dying father and desperate mother. It is a harsh, improbable world that blends some of the tropes of young-adult fiction with both grim realism (Nathan’s mother has become a sex worker in order to keep a roof over the family’s head) and the kind of grisly fantasy at which Mervyn Peake excelled. There is a sense throughout of vivid squalor – ‘now, in the corners, rats and dead-life encroached on the shadows and the idea of happiness seemed nonsensical’ – and Pheby has an ear for ghoulish description: an adolescent possesses a voice that is ‘freshly broken, rattling like a beetle in a matchbox’, while a child being beaten thrashes ‘like a newly gelded weasel’.


5 stars out of 5
Adam Roberts
20 Aug 2020

"It’s an extravagant and often unnerving marvel. I eagerly await more Mordew."

Pheby came to prominence with a couple of novels based on real-life figures: Playthings (2015), inspired by the nervous breakdown of the late 19th-century German judge Daniel Paul Schreber, and the superb Lucia (2018), about James Joyce’s daughter, whose suspected schizophrenia led to her being confined to an asylum for decades. But if Mordew is a new departure in terms of genre, it carries through Pheby’s fascination for the funereal, imprisoning quality of mental states and societal attitudes. Mordew externalises the internal experience of madness, a phantasmagoria both revolting – at one point Nathan encounters a woman’s corpse floating down a sewer with a rats’-nest living in its groin – and sublime. Nathan, coming into his powers, walks the beach and the sand fuses into glass beneath his feet. Firebirds flap through the sky. God’s corpse stirs uneasily. This is an outré book, often mannered and sometimes arch; but it is also oddly, stiffly, immensely vital – is indeed about vitality, in both its creative and its cancerous form. It’s an extravagant and often unnerving marvel. I eagerly await more Mordew.

4 stars out of 5
Alex Diggins
15 Aug 2020

"The world of Alex Pheby’s fourth novel is dizzying. "

Mordew is a little loose and whirling, but it’s written with combustible verve. As with any self-respecting fantasy debut, it is billed as the first in a trilogy, and I’m curious to see where it leads.

4 stars out of 5
Sean Hewitt
15 Aug 2020

"a city of compelling characters and dark adventures"

Pheby is an accomplished, skilled writer, and Mordew is an atmospheric, bleak fantasy. It is adult and sharp in its vision, and (with the addition of the two remaining novels) may well prove to be a significant addition to the genre. Few writers have the courage to make these leaps between their works, and Pheby has shown just how rewarding such risks can be.