Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scar Night (and its subsequent sequels)

Written by Joe the Revelator

My hunt through the used bookstore on the corner usually turns out successful, too successful, often spending more on books than I do on groceries. I blame the extensive list I carry with me, of sequels, prequels, recommendations, out-of-print and too -new novels. It can take over an hour for me to check all the shelves, a tedious process for anyone who comes to shop with me.

But sometimes, on rare occasion, I find nothing. Bubkis. Not a single title from my list has found its way to the used stacks. When this happens I have no choice but to let fate decide my next read. Scar Night found its way into my bag for no other reason than it was shelved upside down, and my hand moved to it, subconsciously, to correct the oversight.

Written by Alan Campbell, Scar Night is the first book in the Deepgate Codex Trilogy, and the first novel to be written by Campbell. His earlier works have been designing and programming for the Grand Theft Auto games, which I personally would have left off the 'about the author' section, since it does the book little credit.

Not all angels are good.

The story takes place in the gritty city of Deepgate, a wildly fanatical city built on a network of chains, hovering over an endless pit, at the bottom of which lies their god, Ulcis. Iron chains dominate the architecture and are used for supports. Hovels, mansions, roads, industrial complexes; everything rests on top of a massive interconnected hammoc. In the middle of this is the towering church of Ulcis, which rises over the city like a monolith.

Living within the church is the last remaining archon (church angel), Dill, a sprightly, happy-go-lucky teen with an old beatup sword and dreams of being a battle archon like his dead father. He is assigned to a guardian, the cynical Spine assassin Rachael, who seems to get him into more trouble than she helps him out of. Together they are charged with confronting the menace of Deepgate, the scarred angel who hunts the streets for fresh blood each moonless night; Carnival.

The church agents are not the only ones seeking Carnival. Briar, the rough, drunken, worldweary scrounger has recently lost a daughter. He found his little girl drained of blood, discarded in the safety nets strung under the massive foundations chains, where none but the poorest men go looking for treasures. His investigation leads him through hellish mazes and shocking revelations about the church, the angels, and about their god.

The ban on flying:

At times Scar Night can't seem to make up its mind what kind of story it is. It jumps between the POV's of the main characters, the church priests, the villains- anyone whose view best suites the story. It can feel like a mystery novel, and then it will switch back to fantasy adventure, and even epic adventure when the characters finally leave Deepgate.

There are several religious parallels, too, between Catholicism and the church of Ulcis, although I suspect they're made for storytelling elements rather than some grand hidden message. And the technology era is something industrial-gothic-steampunk-Final Fantasy-Golden Compass -ish. Overall it comes across as fantasy, pure dark fantasy.

Author: Alan Campbell

Standalone or series?

I would enthusiastically recommend Scar Night. But I can't recommend the rest of the Deepgate Codex Trilogy, which I have read in its entirety. Scar Night should have remained a beautiful, vivid standalone novel. It is imaginative and original, with a powerful and vicious ending.

The sequel, Iron Angel, tears up all the progress it made with Scar Night and starts over again midway; with new characters and new scenery. The writing is still brilliant and inspired, definitely worth reading, but it should have been separated into a story of its own.

The final book in the trilogy, God of Clocks, is like whacking your hand with a roofing hammer for a few hours. It progresses at a slow march to an obvious, unsatisfying conclusion, which utilizes one of my least favorite fix-it-all plot devices; something slightly more acceptable than 'it was all a dream'. Time travel. That's right, none of this adventure mattered, because it never happened thanks to time travel...

Read Scar Night. Pretend the sequels are a figment of your imagination.

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