I have read the conclusion to Edward Carey's Iremonger trilogy and am left a bit breathless, which on the whole is a good thing, as this is a sooty, choking, lung-blackening sort of book, and reading it with held breath is probably safest.
The Iremonger family is an odd lot, and for generations has been given the run of a borough of London called Foulsham, where the city dumps all its trash. There, the Iremongers maintain a symbiotic relationship with heaps of junk: Each of them is assigned a birth-object to keep close, an object to represent and accompany him or her through life. But Clodius Iremonger can hear these objects speaking human names — because the objects are people who've been turned into things, and who, if separated from their Iremongers, may well be able to turn back.
After the tumult of Foulsham, in which Clod Iremonger and his friend Lucy Pennant's native borough is burned to the ground by an act of Parliament, the Iremonger family creeps into London under cover of unnatural darkness. The Iremongers mean to invade London — Lungdon, as they call it — and take it by force to be their new home. They slink into a house in Connaught Place unseen by all but Eleanor Cranwell, a young neighbor who is convinced that their arrival has something to do with the darkness consuming London, the strange behavior of common household objects, and the vanishing of family members all over the city.
Clod, distraught over Lucy's seeming death, is growing in his unusual strength: Objects obey his whim with increasing vigor as he stands stubbornly against his family's plans. Lucy, meanwhile, leads a small group of survivors from the ashes of Foulsham into London, meaning to find both Clod and a place for her refugees. And everything bends toward Feb. 8, when Umbitt Iremonger, patriarch, means to muster his family on Westminster bridge for some nefarious purpose.
The structure of this trilogy invites a slow clap of admiration: The action moves ever outward, from a house to a borough to a city, expanding the series' stakes and premises with each new setting. Heap House introduced us to the Iremonger family and the mystery of the birth objects; Foulsham unpacked that mystery and introduced us to more; Lungdon teeters atop the whole quivering mass like straw on the back of a camel made of things, precariously proximate to a fall, flames and fury.
Lungdon is relentless. Peril piles on peril, points of view tilt and whirl, and the whole would be dizzying were it not anchored in familiar characters and their splendid voices — not to mention Carey's wonderful drawings, which sometimes introduce or illuminate a chapter. Lungdon is that rare thing, the final volume in a trilogy that sticks its landing, ambitiously swelling the cast of characters and story beats before tying the action off as neatly as twist ties on a garbage bag.
And yet — and yet, as thoroughly engaged as I was, as masterfully as I was pulled along, I wanted something slightly more from this final volume: an origin for the Iremongers, an explanation, an orienting mythos. Something that seemed so clear and brilliant in Heap House has, in growing, become obscured; I wanted, at the end, a center and a beginning revealed with which to illuminate the whole. In a family tree at the end of the book, Umbitt and Ommabull Iremonger are at the very top — but who was it who turned Jack Pike into Umbitt's cuspidor? I wanted, ultimately, something the books hinted at but did not ever fully reveal: the premise of the Iremongers made clear, a secret fully confided.
But for all that I'm left wondering and forming my own theories — a fairy pact at the beginning of the industrial age, to account for changelings and "iron" turned "ire"? A curse, a bad bargain with a mad king? — I turn to the sweep of what Carey has accomplished with these books, and am satisfied. A thoroughly original fantasy, a warm beating heart within its heaps, brilliantly begun and emphatically ended: This is a trilogy to keep close as a birth-object, muse on and turn over in one's hands for a very long time.