Sunday, August 5, 2012

Those Who Walk In Darkness review

    John Ridley is an innovative author of superhero fiction. However, there's an interesting fact about superhero fiction I've noticed. There's rarely anyone who plays it straight. I'm guilty of this myself with my own superhero novel being one of the many written about an anti-hero.

    In John Ridley's case, he decided to write a novel set in a universe where superhumans are outlawed and the police officers charged with hunting them down. This is the premise of countless Marvel comics set in a dystopian future and virtually the premise of the X-men books. Sometimes they reverse it with mutants hunting down humans but this novel could very easily be set in "Days of Futures Past" without much adjustment.

    The difference, though, is that it is set from the perspective of the mutant-haters. John Ridley creates the character of Soledad O'Roarke, an Irish African American female police officer who takes the fight to the superhumans. John Ridley does something daring here because he makes no attempt to soften the characterization or give our heroine a redemptive moment. Nor is he unaware that she's anything less than a murderer of people just because of their genetics.

    In short, the heroine is a Nazi.

    This leaves me in an uncomfortable place as a reviewer because I simultaneously must applaud Mister Ridley for doing something original with a totally unsympathetic protagonist. He is clearly attempting to make a statement about fascism, racism, and the fact that a person being badass doesn't excuse them from being a horrible human being. One could argue his books nicely parody the "revenge fiction" genre post-9/11. Indeed, the books premise for the outlawing of superheroes mirrors that destructive event which defined a generation.

    Unfortunately, the book just isn't any fun.

    Perhaps there's a reason that books insist on the protagonists having sympathetic qualities. Frustratingly, Soledad could have been one of the few female person of color protagonists in front of a action book. Unfortunately, her minority status is merely there to highlight what an enormous hypocrite she is in her mindless unthinking gatred. John Ridley does something clever that Soledad isn't a bigot because of losing a family member or lover, she just hates superhumans because of a nonsensical excuse.

    Much like real bigotry, it's more likely she just got swept up in the hysteria and her feelings became self-justifying. Soledad has many admirable qualities in courage, intellect, and raw determination. Unfortunately, she seethes with mindless rage at anything even remotely associated with superhumans. Page after page is filled with her talking about how she hates superhumans, hates people who likes superhumans, and how all of them should die.

    The plot of the novel is fairly simple, Soledad kills a superhuman who has the appearance and powers of an angel. The victim also has a pure and good morality, using her powers only to heal. The angelic superhuman's husband decides to take his revenge on the police department. Sadly, a lot of storytelling opportunities are missed. You'd think killing an angelic superhero would result in some sort of public backlash. You might think Soledad would be introspective over the senseless killing of a healer. No, none of that happens. Soledad and the public think it was great.

    So why should I care what happens to either the public or Soledad?

    John Ridley's writing style may also turn off people as it's...peculiar. It's not difficult to read but it shifts between thought, action, and introspection with no real transition. I had no problem with it but other readers might.

    In conclusion, Those Who Walk In Darkness is a well-written book that I wasn't very happy to read. The book is dark, bleak, and utterly lacking in heroism. It's a tragedy that never really reaches the point where evil is punished or our heroine learns anything. This makes it a long exercise in frustration.


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