Thu 30 Sep, 2010
Tags: books, clockpunk, pulp fiction
Andy Remic, Angry Robot Books
If you’re a fan of old-school pulp fiction barbarian heroes with excessive hyphenation and Incredible Numbers of Significant Initial Capitals, then you’ll doubtless love this book.
I’m not, however, so the excessively purple prose conjoined with abrupt diversion into crude cursing was somewhat distracting; the oddly detailed rape scenes were slightly unpleasant (why Mr. Remic felt the need to inform me as to the exact qualities of the villain’s equipment is a mystery I feel no wish to investigate); and the characterization was somewhat erratic.
The titular Kell (whose legend is helpfully related at the back of the book) appears to be a faux-scots barbarian who, once he gets over his angst (which takes the better part of a page at the front of each battle), is spectacularly effective at cleaving villainous types–nearly always “albino” in nature; I think that, despite the vast numbers of ways that he has found to describe a villain ravishing a female protagonist, Mr. Remic’s thesaurus contains no synonyms for “colorless” or “lacking melanin”–with his sentient and apparently invariably butterfly-bladed battleaxe.
The plot appears driven by the invasion of the subtitular “clockwork vampires;” creatures of grafted flesh and machine–and to Mr. Remic’s credit, the concept is rather interesting; in some respects it’s reminiscent of the plague victims in S. M. Peters’ “Whitechapel Gods.” These creatures require “blood-oil” (if you wish to read this book, please get acquainted with that phrase; it appears on more pages than the protagonist) to sustain their functions, and live in oppressive symbiosis with the aformentioned “albino” warriors and some rather nightmare-fuelish “Harvesters.”
The female characters come out rather badly treated; one, in particular, is given a rather promising backstory only to fall victim to a random act of violence late in the book. It’s rather discouraging, on the whole.
The world-building is accomplished fairly well; the setting seems to have been carefully thought out, with plenty of room for expansion for future books in the series. Individual parts, though, are of varying quality; I half-suspect that some venues were chosen more for atmosphere than for any sort of effective urban planning.
The plot, sadly, is full of missed opportunities; there are many promising threads that are quickly snuffed out or cut off just as they begin to show promise in favor of an apparent desire to keep strictly to a single narrative, that of an irresistable invading army with a few epic heroes who are destined to deus-ex-machina their way into history.
The best that I can say is that Mr. Remic is very aware of his fantasy tropes, and uses them appropriately for his intended venue. There’s the obvious Epic Hero, his Beautiful (grand-)Daughter, the Atoning Sidekick, the Evil Villain at the head of the Ominously Named Army…etc. If you happen to be a fan of this sort of ten-cents-a-page writing, then you’ll probably enjoy Kell’s Legend–if not, find something else with fewer hyphens.