The Violent century by Lavie Tidhar
They’d never meant to be heroes…
In the 1930’s a German scientist, called Vomacht, performs an experiment that accidentally(?) creates “The changed”. The changed are kind of like the X-Men and exist in most countries. Our story concentrates on two of the changed called Fogg and Oblivion but along the way we get to meet a good many of them, on all sides. The story here is chopped into many little pieces and thrown together in an enthralling jigsaw. We often swap between the past and the present and yet there is a solid narrative thread running throughout. I am in awe of Tidhar’s skill with the story here and the believable characters, even though they each have superpowers. It helps that he concentrates on the British as the Americans are full in your face superhero types and the Germans are also Ubermenschen (as well as, on the whole, super-creepy). Oblivion and Fogg work for the retirement bureau and act, mainly, behind the scenes.
The world is lovingly detailed and we get to see the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with an alternative history. Tidhar is playing with structure, playing with narrative and playing with conventions such as how dialogue is usually represented. He pulls it all off admirably. This is a tale, at heart, about people, which is a brilliant achievement considering it is full of ubermenschen. Along the way we get Nazi’s we get noir undertones, we get WW2 re-imagined, we get cool powers, we get a British superhero called Mrs Tinkle, we get Dracul in Transylvania, we get Auschwitz and Mengele and a book packed from cover to cover with great reading.
And yet the eye is drawn to the pictures, the bright uniforms in pixelated garish four-colour. There’s Tigerman, framed dramatically on top of the Empire state building, holding on to a cowering criminal mastermind. There’s the Green Gunman chasing outlaws in the wilds of Texas. The Electric Twins in Detroit capturing Al Capone. Fogg is mesmerised by the images, their brashness, their colour. It is raining on the Charing Cross Road. A grey morning, people hurrying past with black umbrellas over their heads. You’re a good watcher, Fogg, the Old Man says, his voice is in Fogg’s ears. We need men like you. Do not be tempted by the Americans, the loudness, the colour. We are the grey men, we are the shadow men, we watch but are not seen.
Overall - This is the first of a two book deal and I’m definitely impatient to be reading the second. Since this one isn’t actually published yet (I got it as part of my Hodderscape haul) I’m going to have to learn to be patient!