Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy has grown out of its reputation as a cult classic and into the mainstream of fantasy, as a book no reader interested in Gothic dare to miss. It is one of the most distinctive, absorbing and wonderfully strange books ever written. The story concerns Titus, heir to and afterwards 77th Earl of Groan and his adventures in the sprawling, crumbling castle of Gormenghast. Gormenghast is an entire world and Titus comes to grips with his prime antagonist, the sinister kitchenboy Steerpike, amongst a brilliant profusion of characters and vivid detail. Peake's work is rarely compared with that other great fantasy trilogy to come out of the immediately post-war years, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings but in ways the two works do go together. Although Tolkien is plain and expansive where Peake is elaborate, poetic and inward-looking, both authors nonetheless use a detailed imaginative escapism in order to talk about the concerns of their day--specifically the passing of the old certainties of traditional England and the coming of something new. "'Equality is the great thing', said the sinister Steerpike, pulling the legs off a stag beetle and preparing to take on the whole hierarchy of Gormenghast, 'equality is everything'." This is why the short, surreal oddity of Titus Alone, the third novel, is the best: finally leaving his castle home Titus finds the larger world stranger even than his birthplace.
The new television series, with which this edition ties in, promises great things but the best part of Mervyn Peake is to be found in his ornate, poetic writing; his grasp of the Dickensian oddities of character and the utterly unique atmosphere of the books. --Adam Roberts