Friday, 9 December 2011

‘Kultus’ – Richard Ford (Solaris)

What with one thing and another, it’s been a crazy week that has left me with urge to start drinking strong coffee (possibly some Lucozade as well) and never stop. A week where all the things that needed urgent attention were rapidly obscured behind an ever thickening cloud of ‘brain fog’  that has done its level best to stop me functioning. (What? ‘Brain Fog’ is a real term...) And would you believe that, at the time of writing, it’s still only Thursday? I’ve still got another day to get through before weekend kicks in? A weekend, might I add, that’s also full of things that I need to get done...

As far as my reading goes then, it was obvious then that I needed something to clear the fog and give me enough of a boost to get over that last hurdle before the weekend. Obvious to everyone apart from me that is... The only reason I picked up ‘Kultus’ was because of the rather eye-catching cover. Have another look at it, have you ever seen a book cover better designed to ensure that you pick the book up to check out the blurb? Nope, me neither.
I’m a sucker for good cover art and that’s what got me reading ‘Kultus’. What I wasn’t expecting though was a shot of steampunk powered adrenalin that had me quite literally buzzing for more.

Thaddeus Blaklok is not a person you want to be on the wrong side of, not ever. Not only is he a mercenary and demonist but he’s more than a bit of a bastard in general, someone who will make sure you stay down when you’re on the floor... and then give you an extra kicking just because he felt like it.
Blaklok‘s the ideal man then for a mission where he will be working for the very denizens of Hell itself. The Key of Lunos is far more than just a very well guarded museum curio; it can open gates that should never be opened and there are people in the city of Manufactory who want to open those very gates. Blaklok has no idea who he’s working for but the job seems simple enough; get the Key of Lunos and make sure that no-one else gets their hands on it. How hard a job can it be? Very hard when you’re just one man against a city teeming with gangsters, mercenaries, brutal law enforcers and heel spawned monsters. Luckily for Blaklok, there’s far more to him than a vicious right hook...

‘Kultus’ is by no means a perfect read and I’ll go into more later on. ‘Kultus’ is very good at what it does though which is the literary equivalent of throwing a bucket of ice cold water into the reader’s face and leaving them gasping. I was certainly left gasping more than once; I couldn’t help but wince a few times as well. Ford is quite happy to have his ‘hero’ Blaklok pull no punches whatsoever and the results are appropriately bloody. Blaklok wades through a sea of blood and broken bones and absolutely nothing is going to stop him from getting to what he wants, even if he doesn’t fully understand why the Key is so important. Ford keeps things ticking over nicely by making everyone that Blaklok goes up against at least twice his size and keen to dish out a pounding. The result of each confrontation is always slightly in doubt (especially the explosive finale, I really couldn’t put the book down at this point) and its Blaklok’s sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps things moving, you can’t help but want to hang around and see if there is something that can finally put him down. There were also enough hints at Blaklok’s dark past to make me want to find out more about him, I’m hoping for at least one book that features him.

The plot itself is a manic head rush of  heists and standoffs; no-one seems to be capable of holding on to the Key of Lunos for more than half a chapter and sometimes you feel like the plot is almost trying to keep up with its own headlong pace as the Key falls into yet another set of hands. Everyone is out to get the upper hand on everyone else and there is a real atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust coursing through the novel. What I found here though was that while I didn’t know which character would suddenly betray the others, I did know that it would happen and that lent a repetitive feel to the pace of the plot. I knew there was going to be another big ‘switch around’, I was expecting it in fact, and the plot lost its ability to surprise as a result.

What I also found was that more attention was paid to the plot than its surroundings. This is fair enough; plot should take precedence but not entirely at the cost of scene setting. I knew that the city of Manufactory was heavily polluted and... that was about it (apart from the gorgeously realised ‘Repository of Unnatural History’). It’s not that Ford doesn’t let you know where his characters are, I just didn’t really get a feel for what that meant. I’ve said this before about other books; if there’s no scene setting then, in some respects, a book is only doing half of its job.

There’s no denying that Ford really delivers on that half though. ‘Kultus’ is a rip-roaring, bone crunching beast of a book that drops you right in the middle of the action and leaves you ducking to avoid flying fists and Hellfire (seriously, watch out for the Hellfire...) I couldn’t help but feel though that it could have been a whole lot more though if a little attention had been paid to the setting. I’ll definitely be back for any sequels though, I’ll let you know how things pan out...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

No comments: