“…flick through pages defining an alien realm in which justice was king and superheroes fought the good fight to uphold dignity and equality. There was laidback humour in them, too, a sunny-side-up sense of cheeky bravado – since the world wasn’t the dystopia that existed just outside the door to his box.”
I woke up one morning to find an email sitting, unread, in all my clutter of an inbox. It had a long title, weird words that I didn’t quite understand. My first thought ran to spam. Whatever you say, I didn’t win six thousand pounds. I don’t even live in the UK. So I opened the note and found to my delight an author requesting I review his book.
That was a first.
Brushing off the notion that my blog is getting bigger, I skimmed over the blurb, past the striking cover, and settled on three words that grabbed my fancy: Noir, Sci-Fi, and Dystopian.
Three of my favorite genres tucked into one novel. I was excited, that is, until I stumbled upon the following word: Superhero. I’m no fan of Superman, Spiderman, Batman, or any other –man. They often times feel overpowered, overdone, too strong and all that jive.
So I emailed him back, saying I would read it, was excited, and held small hope that this would be a decent novel.
I was proven wrong.
This is a damn amazing novel.
Imagine a quick, all around fun story that has pacing lighter than a feather, a fast introduction that can be oh so confusing and analytical, but still deliver. Imagine humor at every turn, barreling to the rescue of a previously bland and horrible novel that I won’t dare to mention. Well, Bergen’s third take at writing was my savior, my superhero. If that makes no sense whatsoever, you have an inkling as to how amazing this book is.
“Chains hung from the ceiling with no apparent purpose other than making the place look more dangerous, but a worrisome iron maiden decorated one corner. ‘That’s our filing cabinet.’”
Jack, our protagonist, is thrown like us smack dab in the middle of this city, unaware of anything, but his ability to be a superhero. We learn through his eyes, come to see the majesty of a silver, urban land through his narration. Or, better put, the sarcastic and many times extremely funny third person narrator.
Still not making any sense? Well, I’ll get there.
As said, Jack comes to this city to escape his own. Yes, Heropa is all in his mind, what many could call an allegory to Fantasy fiction. But I’m not about to philosophize this great story. No, it’s meant to be a rollicking fun time, not some deep piece of sluggish existential trash. (Unless you enjoy that.) What it does have in place of *depth* is facts.
Yes, pop culture references from the kid, Jack, who’s brimming to the top with comic knowledge. That’s why he’s here, drawn into a land less bleak then his home. See, he’s an orphan living on the streets in a post-apocalyptic Melbourne. We don’t learn as to why the rest of the world was destroyed. It doesn’t really matter. Heropa is where it’s all at, a block of concrete reminiscent of the 40s to 60s where men wore fedoras and women smoked as much as the gangsters on the radio.
Yes, this is where the noir sprinkles in. Not just in the unnaturally shiny setting that contrasts our dystopia, but in the murder mystery. Because that is where the plot blossoms. Capes (Superheroes) are dying. The big problem with that is it’s kinda illegal. See, in Heropa, the Capes live by a set of rules. No swearing, drinking, intercourse, or downright R rated stuff. Killing is included in this humorous take. So when they start dropping like flies, Jack steps in to solve the case.
“’Thou shalt not kill.’
‘Hah. The Bible ref. No wonder I ditched it from me noggin. Fact is we’re not s’posed to die – no matter how much we pummel one another. Rules is rules.’”
But a woman gets in his way. She becomes his Juliet, a Blando or “normal” person, possibly compared to an NPC in video games. They aren’t supposed to fall in love, but the Reset button that does as it says, resets Blando’s memories, is on the fritz. Suffice to say, Jack unfortunately takes advantage of this flaw and thus the romance begins. But it’s not as cynical as I make it out to be.
This is where his second ability is checked off. Characters and dialogue.
Where most authors would stumble, Bergen gracefully slides. Dialect is where it’s at. I’ve never had a writer this breathtakingly amazing at writing dialect. The majority of the time, I hate the stuff with a fiery passion. But Bergen manages to make it flow so smoothly with the rest of the talk, very much like his prose.
“Jack gazed again at the silly banner on the wall. ‘What’s the story with the three-legged chicken?’
Bulkhead glanced up as well. ‘That’s not a chicken – any fool can see it’s a crow. Don’t you know your ornithology?’
‘Looks more like a chicken. Who’s the shoddy artist?’
‘Dammit, it’s a crow.’
‘Well, why the three legs?’
‘I don’t like you. You ask too many goddamned questions.’”
Brick was a favorite, popping off humor at every turn, arguing with Pretty Amazonia, his fellow Equalizer and giant friend. Add in a journalist whose snooping skills create the noir plotline, also adding more funny banter when conversing with her sister, and you have a strong cast just with three major characters. But that’s not the only ones.
The relationship between the people is another important factor. The Equalizers, the band of goodie Capes, can seem a bit distant in the beginning, as one would expect. As we go along for the ride, everybody (for the most part) begins to warm up to each other. Trust is a big moral in this novel, evident by the many coffee filled morning conversations these lads have.
As the story progresses, like the relationships, tension builds tremendously, growing darker, tighter, stronger, right up until the thread snaps and all hell blows loose. Twists fly hard; backstories shed light and clues bring forth more. Even the mystery is in plain sight, which is played off of by the villain for humor, exemplifying what this novel encompasses.
My only complaint is a tiny one: The ending fell a little flatter than I wanted it to. We stop right straight after the climax, and I felt it might’ve been a tad rushed. But I was reading this on the kindle, saw I had ninety percent left and expected a red herring. Alas, I think it was more me wanting to stay in this brilliant novel’s world, share one last cup of coffee with the crew while they waffled on at the Equalizer’s penthouse, gazing out into the sunset.
But that’s sappy stuff.
Bergen has created an amazing novel drenched in the glitz and glam of the silver age of comics, dotting this story with pictures of the cast and funny symbols like three-footed chickens. It moves at a quick pace, full of deep characters and a mystery that had me second guessing the whole way through.
It may be set in a silver world with the outskirts a tad gray, but Andrez Bergen’s third novel does everything it can to achieve the gold. And that it does.