The classic definition of a mystery is a story that leads readers on a chase, daring them to guess the twist before the book reveals all. However, other books, while not fitting this mould, simply ooze mystery, drawing the reader into the world as they slowly unveil the story. The latter approach, when handled well, can be far more compelling than the classic whodunits. With a title like The Man With No Name, and a blurb that comprises a single sentence, this novella by Tanweer Dar tells potential readers that it sits in the latter category. And it is a compelling read, indeed.
While I endeavour to avoid spoiling books in my reviews, given the overarching sense of mystery throughout The Man With No Name, I will be doubly careful to avoid discussing the book’s plot. This novella is best enjoyed knowing as little about it as possible, and letting Dar guide you through the world and story, revealing information as it suits the narrative. As the blurb indicates, it’s a cyberpunk story, and like all good examples of the genre, is a strong piece of speculative fiction looking at a direction the world could move in. As the title indicates, The Man With No Name has shades of a Western story. While the setting looks to the future instead of the past, it features a mysterious lead, determined to make a difference in a—compared to what we know—a lawless world.
If you follow these reviews, you may know that an issue I often have with novellas is that the author isn’t writing to the format’s strengths. All too often, the author will try to cram too much story in, creating a book that feels rushed, or fails to include enough to warrant anything longer than a short story. Throughout its 132 pages in paperback (or an estimated 100 pages on Kindle), The Man With No Name packs more story in than most novellas. However, due to the author’s sparse style of writing in this book, it fits everything in perfectly, without ever feeling rushed.
The Man With No Name accomplishes a lot within its space. It features an engrossing plot that unfolds throughout a narrative that jumps back and forth through time as it flashes back to past events that have a bearing on the main story. It’s a device I enjoy (to the point where—if you’ll indulge me—my upcoming novel, Till Death Do Us Party, utilises it), and one that is handled brilliantly, without it feeling like it’s slowing the book down. It features plenty of action, all of it expertly handled, and fitting within the book’s pacing without sacrificing the mystery. The author has also injected some heart into the story that serves the story without jarring against the dystopian world presented in its pages. By virtue of the genre, this dystopian world includes a variety of science fiction elements, but the book doesn’t hammer the reader over the head with these, instead blending them into a world that feels entirely lived in.
Despite Dar’s sparse writing, at no point does The Man With No Name feel underwritten. The prose is evocative from beginning to end, taking a less is more approach that gives the reader relevant information at the points it’s needed. This builds the book’s air of mystery, while transporting the reader to the book’s futuristic setting. While a picture may say a thousand words, The Man With No Name paints many a picture that are conveyed through far less than that thousand words. These pictures are realised in vivid detail, providing atmosphere in relation to the world, while also describing characters and the world in detail. The author has found a delicate balance through carefully chosen words that will not only keep the reader hooked, but also feel poetic. While I did find a couple of typos in the book, these were minor, and didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book.
The dialogue throughout The Man With No Name fits the book’s trappings beautifully. It has a noir sensibility that completely meshes with the book’s overarching atmosphere. While noir-style dialogue can feel out of time, and in some cases, completely unnatural, throughout this novella, it retains this feel while also sounding natural, like real people talking. Each of the book’s characters sound distinct to one another, and the book doesn’t have any character’s dialogue sticking out from others in an attempt to sound different.
While the novella doesn’t have the space to dedicate huge amounts of time to exploring its characters, each of them still feel realistic, and come across as fully formed. As The Man With No Name covers different perspectives, they flow together seamlessly. Some characters are more likeable than others, but regardless of how likeable (or not) they may be, each one is thoroughly engaging to follow. I would love to see any of these characters explored further, should the author decide to return to the world and its cast.
If you’re a fan of cyberpunk, dystopian fiction, science fiction or speculative fiction, The Man With No Name is a story that will lure you in as you keep flipping through its pages. While not a Western, it features many of that genre’s trappings, which should entertain fans of the genres. With a poetic style of writing and a stunning atmosphere, as well as characters who are wonderful to follow, The Man With No Name is a stellar achievement. On the strength of this book, I’m looking forward to reading Dar’s The Demon and In the Heart of the Void, which I’ll have reviews for over the course of the week. But this book will be a tough act to follow.
His one rheumy, sunken eye contrasted with the whirring mechanical device which served as his other eye.
It was difficult to gauge the man’s age exactly, although it was clearly considerable.The Man With No Name, Chapter 8
The Man With No Name was purchased for the purpose of an honest review.
The Man With No Name is available in paperback and on Kindle, exclusive to Amazon.
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