A shapeshifting sorcerer called Cuttlefish unleashes a terrifying wave of magical carnage across London. A strange family known as the River People move into Cassandra Drake’s neighbourhood. Are the two events connected?
Spoiler alert: no.
Reasons to buy this book:
✔ Good cover.
✔ Cheap. Seriously, the Kindle version only costs as much as about 3 mangoes. What would you rather have – 10 hours of gripping urban fantasy, or 30 minutes of biting into sweet, succulent mango flesh?
✔ OK, I shouldn’t have used mango, objectively the best fruit, as a comparison. But buying this book doesn’t stop you from buying mangoes, if that’s what you insist on doing.
Q&A with Alex Bryant
Where did you get the idea for the novel?
The first idea for the novel came when I was 19, shortly after falling off a horse. Or possibly shortly before – the exact chronology is lost to history. So is the horse’s name, so don’t even ask. The idea was for an opening chapter: a girl comes home one day to find that her dad’s disappeared, and the shadowy organisation he works for wants to take her away for questioning.
The current book, admittedly, has almost nothing to do with that. But from there, the world rolled into life like an out-of-control snowball, picking up all of my other obsessions along the way. Witchcraft and witch-hunts were an obvious thing to include. And the very earliest scene I wrote that made its way into the book actually dates to a dream I had when I was 16. It was about being forced to visit a bizarre old house, meeting its strange inhabitants, and being shown into a vast underground library… It left a strong impression, shaping both Omphalos, the sinister house at the centre of The Identity Thief, and the Lyceum, the shadowy magical organisation which is tied to it.
Which character from The Identity Thief do you most identify with?
Obviously not the main character, Cass, who’s a nasty piece of work, inspired by the kind of girl I was terrified of in school. It’s actually Hector, the quiet and pathologically awkward one who’s probably plotting something evil behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, my friends unanimously agree that I am in fact Cuttlefish, the shapeshifting villain. I resent this – 18 is a perfectly sensible number of masks to own. I go to a lot of parties, and nobody wants to be that guy who’s always wearing the same mask at a party.
Where did you get the idea for the world?
First up, magic is cool. Books with magic in are better than books without magic in. So there was always going to be magic in any novel I wrote.
In books, everyone is totally chill about magic. But in real life, people tend not to be remotely chill about magic. In fact, for a large chunk of history right up to the present day, people have gone around executing each other brutally for practising magic. In Europe, we literally only stopped doing that when it turned out magic didn’t exist.
In the world of the God Machine, magic does of course exist, so it stands to reason that people are still afraid of it – still hunting down witches and punishing them severely. That’s how I ended up creating the Sorcery Investigation Department, a modern-day Inquisition tasked with stopping sorcery in all its forms.
Who are your favourite authors?
First up is Jonathan Stroud. Specifically, the Bartimaeus trilogy. Possibly the most underappreciated children’s books out there. Not by me, of course. I appreciate them a huge deal. But I’m just one man. I can’t give them all the appreciation they deserve. Go read them! They’re about an alternative modern-day London where sorcery is wielded by a select few. So if you liked The Identity Thief, you like them.
If you like classics, read The Master and Margarita. This book is so influential that I straight up stole several quips and scenes from it. But because it’s a classic, this doesn’t count as theft; it’s an ‘allusion’, which actually makes me a better writer.
Contrary to everyone’s assumption, I don’t like either Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. Sorry, guys. I’ve just never been able to get into them. Despite having had virtually every book in the Discworld series recommended to me, or just outright bought for me, at some point. And despite The Identity Thief being compared to them most frequently.
Douglas Adams, on the other hand, is great. The best version of the infinite Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy adaptations is, of course, the text-based adventure game. Look it up!
What’s your writing process?
I sit down at my laptop and open my novel manuscript. I like to check my emails before I start writing, to clear all that annoying admin out the way. One of the emails is about booking an appointment. I open my phone to see when I’m free. While I’m checking my calendar, I get a message notification from a friend about something I was supposed to do yesterday. I open up Messenger to say sorry, and I’ll do it now. But before I do it, I see an article someone’s posted in a group chat. I read it, and three more articles that the first article links to. I close the page, and wind up looking at an Amazon checkout page. Oh yeah, I was in the middle of buying a birthday present three days ago, and must have got distracted. Looking at it now, I could probably find a nicer thing on Etsy. I take a look, and spot some way cooler stuff I want but probably shouldn’t buy. I decide I’m better off thinking about it over lunch. Damn, I don’t have any lunch food. I decide to nip to the shops, but remember I have a package to send that I may as well take with me. I go back to print out a postage label. I discover I’m out of paper so I’ll have to go to the shops first anyway. I go to the shops and buy toothpaste. I forget to buy either lunch or paper.
It’s taken me ten years to write The Identity Thief.
Alex has led a largely comfortable but unremarkable life in North London, and more recently Oxford. His main hobbies as a kid were reading and sulking.
When he’s not writing, he’s performing with his improvised comedy troupe, Hivemind Improv. And when he is writing, he’s procrastinating.
The first idea for The God Machine came when he was 19, shortly after falling off a horse. Or possibly shortly before – the exact chronology is lost to history. So is the horse’s name, in case you were wondering.