Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Plagued By Predictability

NOTE: No Zombies were included in this book.
After a long, long time between drinks, we're up and running again.
As part of my off-again, on-again interest in Northlanders, and my more than mild lust for completeness, I picked up a copy of Northlanders Book 4: The Plague Widow much earlier in the year than this review has been written.
It's a tidy little tome, which runs 192 pages for about $16.50 US at Amazon.
Succinctly stated the story is that of a widow and her daughter in a lovely village set in the Volga (Wikipedia tells me this is therefore in Russia - which I'd picked up based on the use of names like Boris, and a priest that looks like what I always seem to think Rasputin looks like), where they are viewed as an oddity by many of the men, but tolerated by the local government. Tolerated that is until the village falls victim to THE PLAGUE!
If you aren't on board at this stage, all I can throw in to entice you is gruesome violence and death, as well as swearing. If none of that does it for you, I recommend you pass on this book, and read something else.
Things (unsurprisingly) turn to custard as the village becomes divided during the epidemic, power plays occur, and the village is invaded. The key players are set up early on, and play the roles you'd expect. The writing is about mid-range for Northlanders: there's something different in it, but it ends up running to a pretty standard formula.
As happens fairly often in Northlanders, it's difficult to identify with any of the characters, and difficult to find one truly likeable character. As such, Brian Wood has to rely on his plot to get the job done. As I've said, the plot is predictable, if a change from the normal Northlanders "Vikings that don't like each other" stories. That said, elements of the story are quite logical, and convincing. It makes sense that a rural village in 1020 would not be prepared to deal with the menace that was the Bubonic Plague, particularly when they don't accept "crackpot" theories on communicable disease that the modern world accepts as fact. It is understandable that amid the chaos the village would be divided on whose leadership is best. Unfortunately, plague aside, this is standard fodder for "disaster" movies, and having a wife that loves such movies, I can't put this in the top flight of such tales.
On the upside, Leandro Fernandez turns in good art that allows you to clearly identify who's who in the zoo of main characters (something easily overlooked in the bleak worlds depicted in Northlanders, where most male characters have a beard, a tunic, and need to be created for a single 200 page story).The action is easy to follow, and the panel layouts don't stretch my brain or force rereads.

Overall it's a book that I can't really recommend to too many people. Northlanders fans will likely enjoy it, as will "disaster" movie fans. People that fall into neither of these camps should try earlier Northlanders books to see if they like the feel, before they see if they like Wood's experimental genre fusion.

Given the monumental delay, and the number of books read in the meantime, I'll catch up a little in coming weeks with a series of mini-reviews. Which books I'll review in which weeks will be a surprise.

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