Jane Carver by Nathan Long – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews Nathan Long’s latest action-adventure novel, Jane Carver of Waar, published by Nightshade Books.
“A thrilling and fast-paced pulp, action-adventure novel, Jane Carver of Waar proves that Nathan Long can write original fiction as awesome as his tie-in fiction.” ~ The Founding Fields
If you’ve read my reviews of Nathan’s Ulrika tie-in novels for Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy setting (here and here) then you’ll know that I am a big fan of Nathan’s work. Even the one Gotrek & Felix novel of his that I’ve previously read, Orcslayer, impressed me quite a bit, and of course, there’s one of my all-time favourites, the Blackhearts Omnibus. I am also currently reading the Gotrek & Felix anthology, and Nathan has two stories in there, the novella Slayer’s Honour and the short story The Two Crowns of Ras Karim. Have only read the first of those so far though, but I loved it. Definitely recommended!
Anyways, as I was saying, I really like Nathan’s work. Part of the appeal is that he writes very engrossing characters that you just HAVE to root for no matter what, his pacing is excellent and he keeps the reader entertained throughout the narrative. In essence, he writes fantastic tie-in fiction and I love his work. For me, he is definitely one of the best writers for Black Library period.
So it was with great excitement that I finally picked up his first foray into original fiction, courtesy of Commissar Ploss who arranged things. Jane Carver of Waar, is a novel that is very much inspired by Edgar Rice Burrough’s excellent John Carter novels, with the big difference being that the protagonist is a former Airborne Ranger and now biker chick rather than a former Confederate cavalryman. And the action doesn’t take place on our next-door neighbour, the Red Planet, but rather than a world far, far away, Waar.
Verdict: If Jane Carver doesn’t win an award or two this year, I’ll be sorely disappointed. The reason being that it is bloody brilliant!
It is all quite simple really. One of the absolute best novels I’ve read so far this year, and just like ever, is Rob Sanders’ seminal Warhammer 40,000 novel Legion of the Damned. Similar to that, Jane Carver just breathes excellence from page to page throughout the course of the narrative and once it takes a hold of you in the very first few pages, it refuses to let you go. Not that you want to put it down you know. Its just one of those novels that you’ll just naturally want to burn through, turning page after page to read what is going to happen next. I finished the novel in two long sittings myself.
Its quite rare to read a novel like that. Some novels do this naturally. With some others you have to kinda force yourself to get through. The former always end up being great novels in the end while with the latter it is more hit and miss but fortunately, I have had far more hits than misses. Jane Carver falls in the former category.
The charm of Nathan’s work is that it is itself written very naturally. Events flow from one to the other smoothly and without hiccups. The characters all talk as they should, especially Jane herself who often swears like a sailor, leaving her new companions confounded a lot of the time. This is trademark Nathan Long style. His novels all have this quality of being easy reads because his prose is always so simple and direct, yet punchy.
The pacing is also excellent. There are highs and there are lows, with the narrative progressing at its own pace that is dictated naturally by the characters and the events around them. I never got the feeling while reading the novel that events were being forced or that there was any kind of improper impatience in the characters to get from A to B while taking detours through C, D, and E. If anything, the pacing hearkens back to how Nathan wrote the Blackhearts Omnibus, where the characters got ample time to grow and develop
Speaking of characters, Jane is a character that I can totally fall in love with. She is sexy, spunky, original, tough-as-nails, adapts quickly to changing events, doesn’t take crap from anybody (at least not without a good reason), swears a lot and can dish out far more than she gets. In fact, for me she is a perfect heroine. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I didn’t have a crush on her either. She just inspire that. She reminds me a lot of Rachel from the Animorphs novels by Katherine A. Applegate (a series of short YA novels). Rachel is a teenager compared to Jane but they have a lot of things in similar, one of those being that they are both tough chicks in a highly dangerous and misogynistic world and they don’t let people talk down to them.
All things considered, Jane has totally skyrocketed up the list to become my favourite female science-fiction character ever.
The others, Sai-Far, Lhan-Lar , Wen-Jhai and all the rest are also very endearing, particularly the first three. They all show a fair amount of character growth throughout the course of the narrative and as the closest companions to Jane herself, they also are the perfect window for her to look in at the cultures and societies on Waar. As the one who has to go through a literal trial-by-combat to win back his stolen love, Wen-Jhai, Sai is a character that I connected with instantly. He is almost always the underdog in the narrative but there is a quiet, unassuming strength to him that is very appealing. I can’t say the same for Lhan, who took some getting used to, but I consider him to be a fairly original character. His only motivation throughout is to help his friends no matter what, and that’s really all there is to him. He is one of those characters who walk in the shadow of others but still shine brightly. Wen-Jhai is I think one of the most excellent female side-characters ever. As a sort-of jilted lover, she definitely doesn’t beat the bush when it comes to showing her disapproval and she is quite spunky herself. Far more than Jane herself even I’d say, based on certain scenes. If Jane had been any less dominant as the protagonist of the novel, Wen-Jhai would certainly have outshone her.
It speaks of Nathan’s great skills with characterisation that his main characters are all strong ones in their motivations and all. Coming off the Ulrika novels and the Blackhearts Omnibus, this was always one of my expectations and Nathan met those expectations true to form.
One of the other charms of the novel is that it has a strong adult theme throughout. The Oran society on Waar is quite an open society in that regard, very reminiscent of Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts’ Empire novels featuring the Empire of Tsuranuanni. Quite a mouthful I know. if you think about it, it is sort of a cliche when showing exotic, alien cultures in SF/F settings, but Nathan carries it all along very well. This is part of what makes the novel enjoyable because Jane is always complaining about it in one form or another and is the source of no small amount of frustrations for her. This little detail is also quite relevant to the narrative itself as an important sub-plot involving Jane and her two companions – Sai and Lhan, two natives of Waar who belong to the Oran society, the dominant culture on the planet.
However, Nathan does the draw the line between being unnecessarily graphic and giving just the right amount of information to the reader to inform the imagery that he is creating. In simple terms, he got the balance just right.
One thing I feel necessary to comment on is that while I haven’t read ERB’s John Carter novels, the inspiration behind Jane Carver of Waar, I have watched the recent film adaptation that was released and based on that, I believe that Nathan has succeeded in making Jane Carver a novel that can stand on its own without drawing too many parallels with it and at the same time, being a homage of sorts to that source material. I also think that I enjoyed the movie that much more as I read the novel just half a day before!
Anyways, what is also endearing to me is how well-realised the Oran culture and the planet of Waar are in the novel. We see at least two alien races here, the intelligent centaur-tiger hybrids that Jane calls cen-tigers (are actually called Aarurrh) and the humanoidal Orans. Jane spends ample time with both and I definitely got the feeling that I got to explore both in a fair bit of detail. The Aarurrh are fairly original in concept I believe and have been set up as the barbarian culture on Waar, while the Orans are a little cliched but still quite different and are the more enlightened society on the planet. Getting to see the inner details and workings of both without bogging down the narrative is just what I expected from the novel and Nathan delivered on that like a champ.
The action scenes, of which there are many, are also highly enjoyable. Involving duels-to-the-death, sky pirate darings, airship fights and what not, we get a good amount of variety in them. They are also never dragged out for too long and they all help to move the narrative along in a relevant manner, rather than being there for the hell of it. The pagespace is never wasted. Given that Jane has certain superhuman abilities on this lighter-than-Earth planet, the action scenes are also quite thrilling and its fun to sometimes read Jane’s antics as she tries to utilise all her new-found skills to win the day.
As it stands, I really have no gripe with the novel, in any way. I really can’t put a finger on any element of it that made me go WTF or had me confused. As a sort of special mention, the dialogue grammar and some of the sentence structures DO seem odd at a first glance, but that is mostly because Nathan has maintained the originality of the work from the source, which is all explained in the novel’s foreword and afterword.
All in all, Nathan has distinguished his original fiction superbly from all his Warhammer tie-in work and while there are the occasional throwbacks and what not, they are largely a matter of style rather than content. Which is all fine and good for me. It is an approach that serves to draw me in to the novel that much more rather than alienating me as a fan of his previous work.
So in short, I recommend the novel very strongly. Novels like Jane Carver of Waar are a rare in today’s world. Trust me when I say that if you give this novel a pass, you are missing out big time.
My only problem with the novel has been deciding what score to give. You see, I believe that there is no perfect novel out there. Even Legion of the Damned which I absolutely love and hold as one of the top five Black Library novels ever has some down-points to it. The thing is that there is none of that with Jane Carver. So what do I do – give it the same score as Legion of the Damned or give it that perfect score like Commissar Ploss did in his own review?
Daft as it sounds, I did think about this quite a bit, for some four days in fact. The conclusion I came to is that, on a basic level I did enjoy this novel as much as I did Legion of the Damned, and that everything I’ve read of Nathan’s work to date has always impressed me.
So without further ado, my rating for the novel is a perfect 10/10. As much as I’d like, I can’t dock that half point for anything in the novel. Jane Carver of Waar is as close to being that perfect novel that I don’t believe exists, so it might as well redefine what I hold to be a perfect book.