Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Did You Say Teen Police?

Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder “Rocket Girl Vol. 1:  Times Squared” (Image, 2014)

In a parallel 2013, a member of the New York City Teen Police travels back in time.  She’s acting on a tip from a mysterious source trying to make a change in the timeline that will prevent her present from ever occurring.

The good news:  Rocket Girl has a vibrant, dynamic look.  It skillfully integrates the familiar (NYC in the 1980s) with the new and fresh (future technology, alternate realities).

The bad news:  Characterization is not what it could be.  Dayoung Johansson is sympathetic because she’s the protagonist, not because she really earns our sympathy.  And the supporting cast seem to be more outlines than actual characters.  The plot is confusing at best.  Why is Johansson so invested in this is the first place?  What is actually going on here?

I wouldn’t say that Rocket Girl is a bad book.  But without some significant improvement in a future volume, I would not bother to check out its future.

Hey I didn't say GrimDark even once!

Joe Abercrombie “Half a King” (Del Rey, 2014)

The news, some months ago, was that Joe Abercrombie was going to write a Young Adult series.  There was an appropriate amount of gnashing of teeth, of swearing, and of bold declarations of either love or hate.

Now months later, the release date is here.  The mighty Joe Abercrombie has indeed published the first in his YA series.  The world is still spinning on its axis.  Mighty nations have not fallen.  The question, then, is how is it?  And just what is a YA Joe Abercrombie story?

Let’s look at that second question first.  Abercrombie’s YA is a lot like his regular material.  It’s a crapsack world.  Bad things happen to everyone.  All the time.  He does scale back some of the horrors.  Sexuality is removed.  The mutilations are gone.  But it’s still an awful violent world where terrible things happen to everyone.  Even the characters that are sympathetic are not traditionally heroic.  And thematically, this is a coming of age story that is well within the wheelhouse of YA tropes.

Does it succeed?  For me it was a mixed bag.  I’m a big fan of Abercrombie’s book, liking each one a bit more than the one before.  For me, this was a step back.  There’s a gripping story and the plot rockets you forward.  But that wasn’t enough.

A couple of thoughts on why I was a bit let down.  First, I’m not a big fan of coming of age stories.  So I never really found Yarvi to be a compelling character.  Now admittedly, this is my own idiosyncrasy, so YMMV.  Second, this was the least funny Abercrombie book that I’ve read.  I tend to think of there being a certain type of black humour lurking in the depths of Abercrombie’s books.  I don’t think that I laughed once here.  And I realized that that humour was necessary for me to enjoy a visit to his crapsack world.

If you’re a fan of Abercrombie’s, by all means check out Half a King.  It’s got almost everything that you have been enjoying in his books.  If you are looking for an entry point to his writing, then this would not be the first book I’d recommend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“Find the clever things he said, Scribe, and change them around.”

Steven Erikson “The Wurms of Blearmouth”  (Tor, 2014)

Loosely related to Erikson’s significantly larger Malazan Books of the Fallen, the Tales of Bauchelain & Broach are asides of quick, black humor.  After all, what’s funnier than the ongoing adventures of a demonologist and a necromancer?

And that’s the series in a nutshell.  It’s not for everyone.  In fact, I’d wager that many people know immediately that it’s not the series for them.

For those who like that sort of thing, The Wurms of Blearmouth is a fantastic read.  

Our protagonists (when has the word “hero” been so wrong?) wash ashore after a shipwreck.  The village in which they find themselves is built around these shipwrecks.  Valuables are taken, and any survivors promptly executed.  Ruling over all of this is Lord Fangatooth Claw the Render, as much of a mustache twirling, scenery chewing villain as you’ve ever met.  Needless to say, the locals make Bauchelain & Broach seem delightful!  And hilarious chaos ensues!

There are many things I’ve come to expect from Steven Erikson – memorable characters, exotic locales, crisp dialogue, and The Wurms of Blearmouth have it all.  Thanks Tor for republishing this in an accessible format!