In a snowbound city, a man lives anonymously, trapped in repetitive days that last only one hour and often end—or begin—with nightmares in J.H. Carnathan’s compelling Purgatorium.
When we first meet the protagonist, he doesn’t know his own name, seemingly unaware of the many limitations binding him. All around him are strange objects: an hourglass necklace, a coin, weapons, a child’s snow globe. Gradually, he begins to meet a cast of characters who have angelic names and carry playing cards. They give him a name and a card, apparently trying to jolt him from his icy purgatory and bring him back to the life he has been fleeing. But who are they, really? And if he plays their game, will it be for the better, or just another trap?
Purgatorium is undeniably action-packed with many vivid cinematic elements, but it is also a deeply cerebral novel with elements of social commentary, as well as having spiritual undertones. By the end of this twisted tale, Carnathan’s “Everyman” has overcome his demons and found some vital resolutions. But many questions—about sin, guilt, reality, and hallucination—hover unanswered, though the path of questioning the nature of his reality is what makes the novel a riveting read.
At times the reader is overwhelmed by the story’s dense, multi-layered symbolism, and the prose sometimes has a forced loftiness, but the the novel proposes so many mind-bending ideas and scenarios that it is on the whole a rewarding experience.
Bizarre, dark, at times violent, Purgatorium is an original and entertaining work that will definitely appeal to those who like their science fiction overlaid with a glint of mysticism.