Wednesday, 28 March 2012

‘Pax Omega’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)

Ever since I finished Al Ewing’s ‘Gods of Manhattan’, way back in January last year, I’ve been waiting for the follow up to see what happened next. How could I not? ‘Gods of Manhattan’ was nothing short of an awesome pulp read. You can see my review over Here or you can just keep going and read a couple of (much shorter) paragraphs where I said things like…

‘Everything comes together very well at the end with the chaos unfolding in the plot doing very well to draw attention away from a firm pair of writing hands at the wheel. There is plenty going on here but all of it serves a purpose.’

‘I can’t emphasise enough how much fun I had with ‘Gods of Manhattan’, a read with no pretensions other than to give its reader a ride like never before. Not only does it succeed but it does so in some style.’
‘Gods of Manhattan’ is pretty much made for days like today where all you want to do is bask in some hot sun and read something fun. In fact, I recommend you do just that after you’ve finished reading the rest of this post :o)

I didn’t realise that ‘Pax Omega’ was going to tie things up, for Al Ewing’s part of the Pax Britannia series, so there was a little sadness going on when I finally picked up the book and started reading. That didn’t last for too long though; things may have finally come to an end but Ewing rounds things up in some style.

This is the part of the review where I would normally give you a little blurb on what the book is about. Not this time though. There’s potential for massive spoilers (with the way I normally do things) so all I’ll say here is that Ewing gets all ambitious on us readers, seeking to tie up the fate of several lead characters while telling us just how the world of Pax Britannia came to be how it is in the first place. If that wasn’t enough for today’s jaded reader, Ewing sets out to tie all of this into the fate of the entire universe. Still not enough for you? Seriously? Okay… Ewing sets out to do all of this in two hundred and sixty six pages.

Does Ewing succeed? Only up to a certain point, as far as I was concerned, but of course he does. Ewing is the kind of writer who loves a challenge like this and is up to the task of delivering. It’s Ewing’s willingness to raise the bar that has me long for the ride each and every time.

‘Pax Omega’ might only be two hundred and sixty six pages long but Ewing manages to fill it with content that would sit comfortably in a book twice the size. Some of what he tries to achieve does suffer as a result of this as issues and themes are tackled in a series of short stories ranging from the dawn of time to… The whole thing about time travel could have benefited from a few extra pages to actually let us know what it was on about. The addition of new characters does wonders in eventually fleshing out the wider universe of Pax Britannia but can be a little confusing within the confines of each tale.

Balancing this out though are Ewing’s typical frantically paced moments of action and adventure, all slightly askew to give us the ‘weird steampunk’ that worked so well in ‘El Sombra’ and ‘Gods of Manhattan’. The atmosphere is there and it’s chock full of sword fights, super powered encounters and science fiction on a grand scale. I found myself marvelling at the sword fights, bruised by the super powered encounters and mouth agape at the sci-fi. It’s all awesome stuff.

What has slightly turned me off Ewing’s work, in the past, is when he takes things a little too far and ends up throwing the reader out of the story entirely (I’m looking at that fourth wall being broken in ‘Death Got No Mercy’…) When you’re totally immersed in a story, being thrown out of it can jar just that little bit too much.
Well, Ewing doesn’t shy away from trying that same kind of approach again with ‘Pax Omega’. The good news though is that Ewing reins in his wilder metaphysical impulses this time round. It’s still very much a case of ‘anything goes’ but only in the story itself and that proves to be more than enough. Ewing is willing to put his characters through anything if it proves beneficial to the story and the results this time round really have to be seen to be believed. If you’re fan of Doc Thunder or El Sombra (or even a couple of others) then ‘Pax Omega’ will literally blow you away with their eventual fate. I know that I sat there, a couple of times, and went ‘what the f…?’

Things aren’t entirely resolved by the end of the book and this approach is more about leaving you really thinking about what you just read (rather than leaving the door open for further sequels, at least I think so). For a book that wears its ‘pulp traditions’ proudly, ‘Pax Omega’s’ sombre ending does make for some thoughtful moments after you put the book down. It’s a book then that rounds things off in the best possible way and all credit to Ewing for sticking to the path that he chose to follow here.
If you’ve already read ‘El Sombra’ and ‘Gods of Manhattan’ then, just like me, ‘Pax Omega’ is the book that you’ve been waiting for, superb stuff.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

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