Thursday, August 25, 2011

“Devil’s Cape” by Rob Rogers (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Devil’s CapeHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob Rogers lives in Texas. He is a writer, editor, and communications project manager by trade. Devil’s Cape is his first novel.

BOOK BLURB: Devil's Cape, Louisiana. Founded by pirates. Ruled by villains. Desperate for heroes.

In 1727, the masked pirate St. Diable created the city of Devil's Cape as a haven for his men and a place to begin his empire. Pirates gave way to outlaws, who gave way to gangsters, who gave way to gangs and organized crime. But the city has never escaped from its shroud of violence and corruption.

And now a stunning, murderous act has made Devil's Cape more dangerous than ever. Someone needs to protect the city.

Three people are willing to try. Jason Kale, part of a nefarious family, who hides his own abilities. Cain Ducett, a psychiatrist and former gang member, who finds that he is turning into something improbable. Kate Brauer, genius engineer, daughter of a slain superhero, who has lost more than most to the city and its criminals. But they're outnumbered and overpowered. Can they possibly make a difference?

If New Orleans has earned its “Sin City” nickname for its debauchery, then its nearby sister Devil's Cape has earned its “Pirate Town” moniker for the violence and blatant corruption that have marred the city since its founding. A city where corruption and heroism walk hand-in-hand, and justice and mercy are bought and paid-for in blood, Devil's Cape is a city like no other...

CLASSIFICATION: Devil’s Cape is a dark urban fantasy tale featuring an alternate Earth where heroes and villains co-exist with normal people akin to the TV series Heroes and J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars.

FORMAT/INFO: Devil’s Cape is 409 pages long divided over forty-seven numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes an Acknowledgements page and a Map of Devil’s Cape along with a “sites of interest” listing. There are about 48 observational tales, anecdotes and various Devil’s Cape minutiae to go along with the start of each chapter. Narration is in the third-person via many main POVs: Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett, Jason Kale, Jessica “Jazz” Rydland, Warren Sims, Joe Gaines Julian Kalodimos, Hector Nelson Poteete, Costas and Pericles Kalodimos. Devil’s Cape is largely self-contained, but leaves a thread open for a future sequel.

April 1, 2008 marked the US Trade Paperback Publication of Devil’s Cape via the now defunct Wizards of the Coast Discoveries.

ANALYSIS: I first noticed Devil’s Cape when it was released more than three years ago, but never got around to reading the book. Recently, I came across a signed copy in a bookstore and decided to buy it and see how the novel was. The cover blurb didn’t give a clear picture of the story, so I thought Devil’s Cape would turn out to be an average novel. Boy was I wrong on that count and on multiple levels.

The story in Devil’s Cape is spread over a vast period of thirty-five years and twenty days with the narrative switching between the past and the present with each chapter timestamped. For the first few chapters of the book, the author introduces the three main characters—Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett and Jason Kale—and their backstories: Jason Kale is trying to distance himself from his family’s past; Kate Brauer came to Devil’s Cape to regain something which she lost and possibly carry on her family legacy; and Doctor Cain Ducett is targeted by someone from his violent past. In the first 150 pages, the author also introduces various secondary characters and the city’s history, which might be a bit confusing, but proves to be important in terms of the story. The novel’s main event is a large-scale murder that propels the three protagonists in different ways. Overall, the story has multiple threads that slowly start to coalesce into a fine tapestry, which helps make this book so special and exciting to read. To top it off, after the action-packed climax, the author one-ups himself by dropping a huge twist, which sets the stage for round II.

Besides the story, the novel also succeeds due to excellent characterization with every single character presented in Devil’s Cape wholly three-dimensional. This includes the three main protagonists, the secondary POVs, both good and evil, and even the characters who reside in the background . . . each get their chance to differentiate themselves in the reader’s mind. Simply put, characterization was the MAIN reason why the plot was brought to life so vividly.

Another major plus point of the novel is the city itself which is its own character thanks to the author slowly building up the image, history & geography of Devil’s Cape by providing random and specific tidbits here and there, including intriguing vignettes, quotations or recaps that open each chapter. Not only does this help make the city feel real, but it allows readers to become acclimatized with Devil’s Cape, while also adding various layers to the story. Like the origins of Devil’s Cape which is an important part of the novel.

I also liked how the novel is grounded in reality. Yes, Devil’s Cape is full of super-powered people, but the world presented is dark, gritty and violent, while the physics and limitations of each superhero and supervillain is realistic, bringing to mind the kind of realism found in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In other words, nothing is off limits. Everyone has a weakness and even heroes can be killed, which makes it fun to see who survives and who doesn’t.

Lastly, Devil’s Cape is brimming with terrific symbolism. For instance, the novel can be construed as a parable of the corruption, avarice and basic human nature we live with in our lives today. On the other hand, Devil’s Cape can be looked at as an origin story where legends are made and epic events occur. Finally, readers can view the book as an odyssey where characters must go through various trials and tribulations in order to get whereever it is they want to go in life. In short, Devil’s Cape is a multi-faceted gem that offers a unique reading experience that can vary depending on the reader.

Negatively, there were only a few drawbacks in Devil’s Cape. The first is the pacing, which can be a bit languid for the first 100-150 pages as characters are introduced and the story is being set up, but it’s not a major issue since things steadily pick up afterwards and stay that way until the terrific climax. Secondly, the large cast of characters can be a bit troublesome to remember, but the author does his best to make sure the reader doesn’t get confused. Lastly, the author has a tendency to repeat certain facts and aspects about the city which can get repetitive after awhile.

CONCLUSION: Random chance gave me another opportunity to read Devil’s Cape, and I’m very glad it did. Rob Rogers’ debut is a fantastic gem, the kind of novel that one fervently searches for, but rarely finds. In fact, Devil’s Cape has now become one of my favorite UF books of all time and I find it a cruel shame that the book is not more popular amongst SFF readers. After all, it’s one of the best superhero fiction novels in the current market. So do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Rob Rogers’ vastly underappreciated debut, Devil’s Cape...

"Into the Hinterlands" by David Drake and John Lambshead (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official David Drake Website

Order "Into the Hinterlands" HERE or HERE (drm free ebook)

Read the First 15 Chapters of Into the Hinterlands HERE

INTRODUCTION: David Drake is a very well known author of military science fiction and traditional fantasy in the Robert Jordan style and while I have read around 15 of his books, his drier style kept most of them from being the highly favorite novels that I expected based on the content.

Still, the retelling of the Jason and the Argonauts story in the sfnal context of his Hammer universe, The Voyage, his space steward hero and mildly controversial standalone Starliner and his subgenre defining planet with monsters Redliners are big favorites of mine.

John Lambshead came to my attention when he wrote Lucy's Blade, an Elizabethan fantasy for Baen some years ago. While the subject left me meh as there are a dime a dozen Elizabethan fantasies around, I kind of liked his style so Into the Hinterlands as a presumed combination of the second author's writing and the first author world building and plotting was a highly expected novel.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Into the Hinterlands is the start of a new series that could be described as "Young Washington in a space opera context". The social setup is pre-revolutionary America with the main powers Brasilia as England, Terra as France and the proto-human Riders who ride continuum crystal living beings as the Indians, while the colonies are, well you got it and the Hinterlands are, well, you also got it... There is even tea as a highly regulated and sought after commodity.

Getting to the specifics of the novel: the universe of the novel is a four dimensional membrane inside the continuum and the humans navigate it by "frames" aka glorified bikes/wagons though there are interesting details as to how this works and what limitations ensue - the hyperspace drag is determined at the subatomic level so what you can carry efficiently on frames is dependent on its molecular properties rather than on mass/volume, so for example metals are hard to carry but ceramics are easy.

The political setup is the Fourth Civilization that spread across the stars when the nature of the universe was understood after the fall of (our) Third Civilization due to resource scarcity and biowars. Humanity now has the expected - lords of land at the top at least nominally, aggressive traders and merchants, while indentured servants take place of slaves in the Brasilian society and convicts in the Terran one, with the usual corruption, inefficiencies, class distinctions and pettiness. In other words, the socio-economic world of the 18th century in a space opera context and I happen to agree with the strong believability of such in the timeline presented by the authors as there is nothing inevitable about democracy and "rights of men" even in a technological world.

The story starts with Allen Allenson, young and promising colonial gentry and in-law to a secondary branch of a powerful Brasilian family, branch that decided to make its fortune in the colonies and married into the rising local families. Allen is leading a survey expedition into the Hinterlands under the nominal leadership of his learned but impractical in-law Destry, while Hawthorn, his childhood friend and dashing ladies man, another gentry but a bit lower in the social standing, is his aide.

This part is awesome and hooked me on the story while it introduces both the universe and our heroes perfectly; later, visiting his dying elder brother Todd - of a gene wasting disease that no medical tech can cure- Allen is convinced by his sister-in-law the ambitious Lynsie Destry to get Todd's position as Inspector General of the colonial militia. After the usual corrupt patronage deals, Allen gets the position conditionally from the executive Governor, contingent of investigating reports of Terran penetrations into the Hinterlands and of renewing the treaty with some of the Riders tribes that have a representative at one of the few trading posts into the wild.

From here the big-picture story starts and there is generally a predictable tone to what happens based on the events of the colonial wars of the 1750-1760's, but I really enjoyed the story and the space opera milieu gives a great canvas to retell it. There is much more including romance, seductive but dangerous women, politics and of course battles, fights, treacherous allies and incompetent generals. Into the Hinterlands packs quite a lot despite not being that long at less than 400 pages.

Overall, Into the Hinterlands (A+) is a great series debut and a complete package with a great ending but of course I want more and I really hope it "has legs", so the story of our heroes and their universe continues. Highly recommended and a book that shows clearly why Baen has been the leading publisher in military sf for so many years by putting out compelling novels that combine an interesting new space based milieu with traditional stories inspired from history.