Review: Songs of Dreaming Gods, William Meikle, 2017.
When three cops are called to an abandoned house in St. John’s, Newfoundland, their lives will never be the same. And that’s not just because of the five mangled bodies inside.
This is a full-length novel treatment of Meikle’s Sigil and Totem idea. As it’s explained in the book,
There are houses like this all over the world. Most people only know of them from whispered stories over campfires; tall tales told to scare the unwary. But some, those who suffer, some know better. They are drawn to the places where what ails them can be eased. If you have the will, the fortitude, you can peer into another life, where the dead are not gone, where you can see that they thrive and go on, in the dreams that stuff is made of.
But those houses have rules. They break down sometimes. That’s what happened to the house in St. John’s.
And now Inspector John Green, just back to work from recovering from a knife attack two months ago, can’t find his way out of the house. But he does find his way into what may be a far future world. There’s also a Rat King, black eggs which may be the quantum foam of other dimensions, and chess with the Reaper.
And Sergeant Janis Lodge can’t find her boss in the house, a place where rooms seem to change character, jump back and forth in time. And there’s the matter of the china dolls that keep coming for her.
And Constable Wiggins is back at the station, wondering what happened to his bosses and if the one witness to the murders may herself be in danger.
This story moves fast Meikle alternating between his three characters.
As usual with Meikle, I don’t want to say much more. He’s a taunt writer whose tales are fast moving. You don’t get very far into his stories without some surprises, so I’ll say no more about the plot. This is a vertiginous story and baffling at times. While it’s not the first Sigils and Totems story I’ve read, I’m not sure I understood everything. The usual rules didn’t seem to always apply. But I didn’t have the sense this was an arbitrary world with Meikle just making stuff up as he goes along. I felt there were rules – just that I didn’t understand them. On the other hand, maybe I was just in such a hurry to get through the story that I missed something.
Meikle shows there is a lot of potential to this series. And if weird fiction should end with you less certain of the world and how it works, this is definitely weird fiction. This is one of those times the unexplained works in a story’s favor, where it’s best to see the wave-probabilities of plot rationales, their ambiguities and mysteries, rather than have them collapsed into a neat package by the author.
One character at the end of this story does make a decision I thought was a bit unexplained, but that’s my only complaint.
Additional Thoughts with Spoilers for the Sigil and Totems Reader
We see snatches of a scene that seems to come from Meikle’s Pentacle – also a Sigil House story in which a concierge has to fix a Sigil House. Do the Sigil House communicate with each other sometimes?
Why does Inspector John Green have a bond with the house? The wounds he has from a knife attack just a short time before the story serve as a sigil which is unusual. Usually, sigils have to be carved deliberately.
Green’s friend and subordinate, Sergeant Janis Lodge, seems to serve as his totem to maneuver in the house (both Janis and Green see time shifts as they wander from room to room and cannot escape – they see some rooms at different stages in the past and Green will go into other dimensions – perhaps the distant future or dreams).
Why does Janis end up as concierge? She wasn’t missing or grieving anyone before the story? Is it to maintain contact with Green? For that matter, we really don’t hear, even though his wife died, much about Green being in grief before entering the Sigil House. Is the connection he needs the house for Janis? Are we talking about a major variation in how this Sigil House works.