The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar, published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.
“An excellent standalone novel, Lavie Tidhar propels himself into the spotlight with one of the best novels of the year. After excelling with several novels in the past, The Violent Century is what raises the benchmark for his fiction and should be the novel that puts him on everybody’s must-read list. This book is just that good.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
They’d never meant to be heroes.
For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.
But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.
Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question:
What makes a hero?
Lavie Tidhar is an author that I’ve been meaning to read more of for a while. The other novel that I’ve read by him is The Great Game, published from Angry Robot a few years ago, and it really impressed me in how it played out, and left me really looking forward to more. When I got a copy of The Violent Century in the post to review I was pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint, delivering an awesome read right from the start, providing us with one of the more unusual novels of the year, as well as quite possibly one of the best. Lavie Tidhar’s latest novel is just that good, and really raises the bar of from The Great Game, despite being a very different novel to the fun steampunk novel that I last read, not realizing that it was the third novel in The Bookman series but understanding what happened nonetheless.
This book has been praised as the meeting of Watchmen and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and it’s clear to see where such a comparison has been drawn from – both Fogg and Oblivion wouldn’t fit out of place in the universe shared by characters like Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias, and there are several similarites that it shares with the works of John le Carre. This isn’t an action-packed, all guns blazing novel that would work better as a comic book than a work of prose. The Violent Century is very much an unconventional novel – to the point where it not only could belong to a vast variety of genres, but also does it lack the use of speech marks as one would normally expect. The only other novel that I’ve read in my memory that has used this method is the fantastic The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell – and whilst that novel is a tale of survival in a zombie-ridden world, they still manage to be incredible novels, which is good to see as it’s always a risk when readers find themselves out of their comfort zone, but the reward is even greater when the risk pays off – as is the case with The Violent Century.
Whilst I’m no stranger to superhero fiction, following a number of DC & Marvel comics myself as well as having read two other novels that could fall under this category in this year alone (Andrez Bergen’s Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? & Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart), this book still does fit out of my comfort zone mainly due to the large element that it draws from the spy genre – something that outside James Bond and Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider and Ed Brubaker’s recent Velvet #1 I’m not really familiar with. It was refreshing to see how the two genres work well when they’re combined together as Tidhar pulls it off very well indeed.
Oblivion and Fogg are both retired members of a British department that deals with Übermenschen – or superheroes, following their creation in a science experiment. The novel sees Fogg brought out of retirement to see the handler of the Übermenschen, nicknamed The Old Man, in order to explain his actions during World War 2 and the subsequent Cold War, with Oblivion – who stood with Fogg for seventy years in the field – taking part in the debriefing. Through this method, we thus learn more about not only the characters but also this alternate world that they inhabit – and how the intervention of superpowered beings have altered history from its normal course.
The less you know about The Violent Century, the more it will surprise you. It’s a delightful read, and aside from the comparisons to John Le Carre and Watchmen, fans of Ian Tregellis’ Milkweed novels will find something to love here. Both share a similar tone and feel, even if they do have their respective differences. Lavie Tidhar will find something to impress you regardless of whether you read multiple superhero comics each week or have never read a superhero book before. It’s dark, creative and wonderfully written – and comes highly recommended.