Tuesday, 2 September 2008

‘Arrowhead’ – Paul Kane (Abaddon Books)

A ‘shared world’ has been racked by a plague that has only spared people of a certain blood type, there’s a lot of scope for crazed motorcycle gangs and bloodthirsty cults but what about the regular people who just want to get on and create some kind of life for themselves? ‘Arrowhead’ sees these people building villages around the city of Nottingham and slowly beginning to do things like barter with their neighbours for goods etc. It’s all quite idyllic really but then a Frenchman comes in with a bunch of mercenaries and sets up house in the castle. He declares himself ‘sheriff’ and starts demanding taxes from the poor villagers. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? What those villagers need is a hero who will return their goods to them before the winter comes and they end up starving. Oh look, here he comes now...
Yes, Abaddon’s world of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ has a hero who steals from the rich and gives it all to the poor which makes for a pretty decent tale from where I’m sitting...

Most stories of this ilk pay their dues to the original source but perhaps don’t make it so obvious that’s where they’re getting their ideas from. ‘Arrowhead’ goes for a direct retelling of the original Robin Hood story albeit with a little more emphasis on the blood and guts instead of tales of ‘merry japes and merry men’. This approach fits in well with this rather dark and desolate landscape but I found that part of me was hankering for some more light hearted moments sometimes. I couldn’t really complain too much though as the ‘Afterblight’ series is pretty up front about what it promises the reader, good for fans of the ‘post-apocalyptic’ sub-genre but maybe not one for people who are after something light-hearted! It was fun to spot the ‘Robin Hood parallels’ though and watch pieces of the puzzle fit into place!

Abaddon books are normally a fast paced and quick read; ‘Arrowhead’ is no exception to this rule with a lot happening (mostly all out war) in just over three hundred pages. While I appreciate that characters and plot can have a big influence on where the story goes (and the plot of ‘Arrowhead’ does make sense regarding some of the directions that it goes in) it sometimes felt that things were a little bit rushed when they could have benefitted from being drawn out a little more. In ‘Arrowhead’ a lot of stuff happens in a very short time which makes for an exciting read but I was left with questions about certain characters and situations where answers would have resulted in a more satisfying read... For example, there were hints of something a little supernatural in the relationship between Stokes (Robin Hood) and De Falaise (the Sheriff) and their shared dreams which I found myself wanting to know more about, especially as this didn’t seem to fit in with what the series is about (people trying to make their way in a post-apocalyptic world).

I can’t complain too much though as ‘Arrowhead’ is an entertaining read that proved to be just the right length for a couple of commutes on the tube. There’s plenty going on, in terms of spectacle and intrigue, that kept me going and if you’re already a fan then I think you’ll be hooked too. Kane also really gets inside the heads of his ‘good’ characters (Robert in particular) which made me feel that little bit more empathy for what they were going through, even when they made decisions that were a bit dodgy... The villains are appropriately villainous and I’m hoping that Tanek’s mysterious disappearance means that we’ll be seeing more of him in future books (he’s a nasty piece of work with scope to come back and be just as nasty in the future...)

For me, ‘Arrowhead’ makes up for the below par ‘Dawn over Doomsday’ (in the same series) and despite it’s shortcomings still hints at a promise of good things to come. I’ll be sticking around to see if this is the case.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

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