Thursday, 5 February 2009

‘The Secret War’ – M.F.W. Curran (Tor UK)

Due to the fact that I snore really badly (apparently I sound like someone trying to get their car started on a very cold morning...) I found myself in the spare room a few nights ago. This isn’t normally so bad but by the time I got there I found I couldn’t get back to sleep again... This isn’t normally so bad as I tend to read until I go to sleep but, this time, the book that I was really into was in the other room. I’d already woken Sue up once, I couldn’t do it again. Could I?
Luckily for me, there’s always a spare book ready to be picked up and I thought I’d give M.F.W. Curran’s ‘The Secret War’ a go. I’m not really that keen on historical fantasies but this book had been sat on the pile for quite some time and I was feeling guilty... :o)
As it turned out, I’m very glad that I gave ‘The Secret War’ a go...

The Battle of Waterloo held plenty of horrors for Captain William Saxon and Lieutenant Kieran Harte but it’s the aftermath of the battle that will uncover the true horrors lurking underneath a world that’s blissfully unaware of their existence. An encounter with something unholy, in the town of Gembloux, will throw William and Kieran into an ages old battle between Heaven and Hell. A mysterious bronze pyramid lies at the centre of their sudden change in fortunes, an artefact that brings everlasting damnation to those that touch it.
This pyramid must be destroyed and William and Kieran are in too deep to do anything else but take responsibility for this task. Ranged against them are not only the forces of evil but also the forces of good with schemes and ambitions of their own...

As I’ve already mentioned I’m not a big fan of historical fantasy. If I want to read a history book then I’ll pick one up, same deal with fantasy. Naomi Novik’s books changed my mind a little bit but the point for me (when I’m reading) is to escape the real world, not be stuck in it’s past with a little bit of fantasy tacked on for good measure. Luckily for me, Curran made this a complete non-issue by emphasising the fantasy elements and keeping the historical aspects firmly in the background. What we get, as a result, are some chilling moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a game of ‘Doom’ (the daemons are particularly brutal and take some putting down!). There were a couple of moments where I found myself saying things like, “he’s behind you!” or, “don’t go out there!” When a book makes me come out with stuff like that then it’s definitely doing something right!

Curran’s approach to the plot is basically not to let the action slow down for a second and the result is a very fast paced affair full of lots of intrigue (betrayals where you least expect it...) and warfare. The warfare aspect is predominant as the forces of evil are very much cast in the ‘victory through overwhelming force’ mould and the spectacles that arise from this are worth the read if you like your warfare bloody and brutal. Be warned that Curran doesn’t leave much to the imagination in his descriptions of combat. I personally think that this is how it should be but those with a weak stomach might want to think twice before reading...

A negative side to the plot is that it concentrates on the spectacle rather than the characters themselves. We do get to find out stuff about William, Kieran etc but I was left thinking that we could have learnt so much more. Perhaps in another book...? The plot also had a real ‘Lord of the Rings’ feel about it (evil artefact must be destroyed, friends go off on a quest to do just that) even down to the mysterious ‘Gandalf’ figure who knows more than he is letting on. The constant barrage of things happening negated this, to an extent, but I still found that it jarred with the nineteenth century setting...

Fair play to Curran though for finding his way through the potential pitfalls of a plot where all powerful creatures (angels and daemons) could very easily end up as deus ex machina handily placed to get characters out of a sticky spot. I never got this feeling at all throughout the entire book and I’m looking forward to more of the same in the sequel (‘The Hoard of Mhorrer’).

‘The Secret War’ ended up being one of those books that I pick up, on a whim, and find myself really enjoying. There’s nothing too deep here but there is plenty to keep you hooked and involved. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel very soon.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Hagelrat said...

I like this book too.

ediFanoB said...

To be honest I don't like the books of Naomi Novik. I read His Majesty's Dragon and I found it boring.

I read The Secret War.
The story started promising. But after a while I mentioned that it is a bit different compared to the blurb. It is not a pure fantasy story.
The rhythm of the story is wavelike.
That means action parts alternate with more describing parts. There is no real climax at the end.

So for me the book was a fair read.

Anyway way I will give the sequel The Hoard of Mhorrer a try.

gav ( said...

I'm still making up my mind and still reading but now have a reason to pick it up a bit more.

Thanks for the kick.