Shadowhawk reviews the first in a brand new trilogy of self-published novels by Matt Forbeck, set in the RPG setting Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World. This novel is also the first of twelve in his 12-for-12 campaign, a crowd-funded drive to write a novel each month.
“Matt Forbeck kicks off his Brave New World trilogy in great style with an action-packed narrative that is also full of a variety of interesting characters set in a setting as unique as it gets.” ~The Founding Fields
Another Matt Forbeck review this month, which means that it really is no surprise what I’ve been reading these past few weeks! What can I say though, I love his work and he really is one of my favourite authors out there. So far for me, he is 4/4 for me as I have yet to be disappointed with any of his stories and that’s a great thing as far as I am concerned. For folks that may cry out fanboisism or any other such “accusation” this is anything but. My high praise for his work, that I’ve read of course, simply means that he is a consistently good author who can keep you entertained and hooked no matter what type of a narrative or form he is writing in/for, whether it be comics or novels, fantasy or science-fiction.
Brave New World: Revolution, as I said above, is the first novel in Matt’s drive to write twelve novels this year, each of those being around the ~50,000-word mark. The reasoning being that this is the target for people who participate in National Novel Writing Month each November and for other such reasons. Of course, it goes without saying that such a rapid pace is only possible with a high writing speed, something that Matt seems to excel at! He’s a word-Terminator or something. Anyways, you can check out the details of the project on his site here.
Anyways, back to the review. The novel is set in Matt’s own setting and the world he has created is a very interesting one. Imagine a a present-day Earth where the United States employs an organisation of superheroes and where the tasks of these superheroes include fighting all the bad guys and recruiting, often forcibly, their own kind. I don’t have much experience with Marvel so in DC terms, this is like a dark, gritty version of the Justice League where the heroes are not exactly the knights in shining armour. Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World is, I think, a fantastic setting. It offers a lot of opportunities for some truly cinematic stuff with superheroes. And everybody loves superheroes don’t they! Escapist entertainment at its best.
As a first introduction to the setting, I found the world-building to be rather excellent. Matt takes you through the alternate world with a nice and easy pace that never overwhelms or underwhelms you. New characters, new groups, new concepts are introduced in regular intervals and they never come off as too cliched or there just for the hell of it. Every character has something to offer to the larger narrative that is being told and you will be surprised at how some of the minor plot points turn into rather important ones later or in the novel.
As such, the pacing of the novel is mostly handled well, as I thought that it lagged in a few places and sometimes there was too much of a jump between events and characters that can leave the reader confused. One of the main reasons for that is that Revolution is written in first person from the POV of a handful of key characters. This is something that really threw me off in the beginning because I was really confused. I tend to somewhat speed-read even when I have all the time in the world, and that unfortunately fluxed everything for the first few chapters. I quickly picked up on the fact that the author had managed to put in POV tags at the beginning of each chapter to help the reader identify who was telling the narrative. An odd decision that I’m not sure if I’m sold on as yet. It definitely is a change from the norm though so I’ll be waiting to see how the sequel, Revelation, turns out to make a proper call on this style.
The thing about superheroes as characters is that there is such a huge challenge in being able to offer something new to the reader. Spiderman is very different to Superman and The Thing is very different to the Martian Manhunter and so on (although I have yet to really understand the difference between the various Marvels in the two worlds – DC and Marvel – and I learned only a few days ago that Marvel has its own version of Aquaman, called Namor IIRC). This is one of the key points that I’m waiting to hear about Adam Christopher’s next, a superhero novel called Seven Wonders, as well. It is a concept that really intrigues me of late. What Matt does is he takes some of those old, tried-and-tested superpowers and then does something different with them. In most cases.
What we end up with then, is a really intriguing make-up of superheroes in the novel. We have Patriot, a man who can shoot plasma out of his hands; Booster, a man who amplifies the abilities of those around him; Renegade, who snorts out poison gas and is a really, really creepy villain; Ragnarok, a flamer; and a whole bunch of others. Some of these superheroes, depending on their power-levels, also have secondary abilities which, I think, was a really neat touch. Even though some of his superheroes come off as clones at times of other superheroes and superheroines, they still have something to going for them. Not the least of which is the world of Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World of course!
The characters I’ve mentioned are some of the most important characters in the novel, and within the wider setting. They drive the narrative from start to finish and I found myself liking and hating almost of them in equal measure. Although, I did have extremes of those feelings for a few, such as the insufferable Ragnarok, and the (once again) decidely creepy Renegade. Patriot himself didn’t appeal to me all that much even though he was one of the major characters of the novel. The whole gritty, down-and-dirty feel that Matt is going for with the setting hasn’t really convinced me that it is all that gritty and down-and-dirty. Patriot is a clear example of this as I’m not really sure which side of the moral compass he is on. He gives me the vibe of boy-scout Superman (from Birthright series) and hard-as-nails, ready-to-kill Wonder Woman (from Justice League: New Frontier animated movie) all in one. Like I said, a likable enough character, but not one that I can easily root for by the end.
Booster was someone I found myself readily sympathising with. That guy really gets the wrong end of the deals and it is quite heartbreaking to read at times. I really wish he had gotten a really upbeat ending than what he got. For all the sacrifices he makes in the novel, he deserved that.
Another interesting character was the new-on-the-block-superhero Lisa Stanski who remains to be convinced till quite later in the novel that she is actually a superhero. Or, at least, believing when others such as Patriot tell her that she too is a delta, a superhero. Matt really captured her helpless and confused feelings, reminding me very much of how Rogue is originally portrayed in those old Nickelodeon X-men cartoons. After all, when you are on the run and are being hunted by superheroes, you tend to freak out in the most spectacular ways. I don’t think Matt set out to make set up comparisons to that Rogue but it is a good one. Rogue in that show was one of my favourite characters and so is Lisa in Revolution.
The dialogue, as is usual with Matt, is short, to-the-point and punchy. Whether it is Patriot’s defiance to his enemies or Street and Tiny’s smart-assery or Lisa’s sarcasm or anything else, it is all written to be enjoyable. There are a few places in which the characters sometimes take a leap of logic that you don’t quite follow and consequently things could have been a lot clearer, but they are very few and far in between. Don’t be put off by that tiny detail though. The rest of the novel is definitely worth it.
Overall, I quite liked Brave New World: Revolution and I think it is a great start to a trilogy but I think that it could have been better all the same. Mainly, I think it is the word-length that drags it down because some of the chapters and events and scenes could really have benefited from having been fleshed out some more. The same goes for some of the character motivations, which I really didn’t understand till the latter third of the novel. Not to mention that some characters, rather surprisingly, don’t reappear later on in the novel when I was expecting them to really show. That may just be down to me expecting a somewhat cliched outcome in those cases but I think that there was a good, realistic opportunity like that towards the climax.
However, I still recommend Revolution and I would urge you all to give it a try. It is a great novel written by one of my all-time favourite authors and that really should be enough to convince you all. I hope.
Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.