Thursday, 21 July 2011

‘Roil’ – Trent Jamieson (Angry Robot)

There are many variables to take into account when I’m deciding on what book to pick up next from the pile. There’s all the usual stuff (do I want fantasy or sci-fi for example) but other things that sometimes get taken into account include the likelihood of overcrowding on the tube (which cuts out anything by George R.R. Martin or Erikson) and how little sleep I’ve had the previous night (far too little this days...)
It may be a little shallow of me (and that’s a discussion for another time I think) but any cover art that catches my eye will always mean that the book itself is read sooner rather than later. What I’m finding though is that this mandate is beginning to cover bad cover art as well as the good. What kind of a book gets treated with such disdain that it has bad cover art slapped on it (before it’s even published sometimes)? There’s only one way to find out, read the book.

Take Trent Jamieson’s ‘Roil’ for example where a grim and foreboding cityscape is spoilt by the introduction of a figure that would look better placed on the cover of a very old Playstation game. I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the choice of cover and the blurb sold me. Having finished the book I’ve once again learned the lesson of not judging a book by its cover. ‘Roil’ may be a tough nut to crack initially but if you sticks with it then you will be rewarded.

The Roil is coming... A vast chaotic storm that hides hordes of monsters in it’s black depths, the Roil has already consumed eight of the twelve cities of Shale and left dark wasteland in it’s wake. Now another city lies directly in its path whilst another is being attacked from within. Shale is dying...
All hope isn’t lost though. There is one more chance to beat back the Roil and it lies within the hands of a drug addict, a four thousand year old man and a young woman out for revenge. Is it already too late though and is the chance to save the world worth using the weapons to hand...?

I’ve got to admit, the first few chapters of ‘Roil’ really didn’t do it for me at all and I found myself wondering whether to just put the book down and check out something else instead. ‘Roil’ found its feet in the end though and I would check out the next book to see if this early promise continues.

Considering the number of books already doing this, another book that opens with the death of a loved one leading to an orphaned teenager going on the run has got to pull something pretty impressive out of the hat in order to stand out and keep you reading. Unfortunately for ‘Roil’, its opening scenes didn’t do enough to engage me straight away. There was precious little to engage with in the character of David (who could barely engage with himself, proving that narrative about drug use can backfire if you’re not careful) and the end result was that I found myself looking for that ‘hook’ when the book really should have grabbed me a lot earlier.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the setting wasn’t particularly inspiring either; a dark and gloomy ‘steampunk’ city where politics can be lethal as the Mayor will do whatever it takes to stay in control and bring his vision to fruition. I read this and couldn’t get China Mieville’s ‘New Crobuzon’ out of my head; this feeling really didn’t do a lot to give the city of Mirrlees-on-Weep an identity of its own. To be fair, there are hints of something more science fiction based that really flesh things out (and provide that sense of identity) but this all comes much later in the plot so you’re pretty much stuck until then...

I stuck with it though and am glad that I did.

As the book moves on it gains a momentum and identity all of it’s own that pushes things forward in all the right ways and offers intriguing possibilities for books to come. I’ve mentioned the tenuous sci-fi link already but, to my mind, the real star of the show is the Roil itself. We’re talking about a massive (possibly continent spanning) storm that advances at a relentless pace, it can only be halted for a short while and then it will grind you right down with the various monsters that lurk within it. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Roil (and its inhabitants) has somehow developed the capacity for rational thought. The Roil won’t just come at you mindlessly; it will fight you with weapons that you thought only you possessed. What was once a stand up fight has now become something far more insidious and offers possibilities that this book positively thrives upon. The manner of weaponry employed by humanity, in this fight, also makes for some refreshing reading as well as some awesome battle sequences.

As the fight spreads across the landscape we are slowly given more of an idea of what Shale is like to live in. It’s an unforgiving world but the only alternative is far worse (as we are made only too aware of in certain scenes)! This lends the story the urgency it needs to push on, there’s a real sense of ‘race against time’ here. It’s a shame then that the group of characters fighting to save Shale aren’t really given the same treatment. Margaret is too set in her ways (and hence one dimensional) to really develop further. Paul suffers from the same kind of treatment but the payoff here is that he is being set up to do more in the next book (that may not help you here though...)
The big draw for me was Cadell, a four thousand year old man guilty of something terrible and weighed down heavily by whatever it was. He is a man still capable of terrible things and whenever he does he is so apologetic as he really has no choice when some of his darker needs come to light. It’s this contrast that makes him a character that you just have to keep following.

‘Roil’ is a real book of two halves in terms of readability but luckily the stodgy stuff comes at the beginning and the good stuff takes over soon after. The second half of the book offers a tantalising glimpse of what might be a series worth keeping an eye on. Look out for ‘Roil’ at the beginning of September this year.

Eight out of Ten

1 comment:

Bibliotropic said...

I got a copy of this through NetGalley, and I'm looking forward to being able to read it. It looks like it's got a lot of promise, and, well, you rated it pretty decently, so that just makes me want to read it even more!