Tag Archives: London

review – captain swing

Readers uninitiated either to Warren Ellis or graphic novels would benefit immensely by reading Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island. On the one hand it’s a brisk and bloody romp in a genre definitely not steampunk (as Ellis insists) but something that feels a lot like it. Sure, there’s lots of metal and some gears but it’s a story enshrouded mostly in fog, blood and sparks. 

Captain Swing is a frenzied mix of clashing societal and seemingly fantastical forces. Enigmatic spring-heeled figures, harnessing blue lightning, are caught slinking about the streets and rooftops of London.  Murdered Bobbies, drawn and quartered with all signs of foul-play pointing to the sky.  Add to this confusion the turbulence of 1830s London with the eruption of the Swing Riots, the peasant uprisings against industrialized agriculture, combined with the full-on war between the emergent policing factions of the Peelers and Bow Street Runners. All these factors paint a story of change swaddled in bedlam, easily personified through the notorious visage of Captain Swing.

Ellis writes a deceptively pithy story. Course like the London grime, his dialogue, especially between his policing factions, is as bawdy as it’s humorous and unsettling. Contrast this, however, to the utopian and progressive aspirations of his altruistic Swing. Thankfully, his own sentiment does not boil down to dualistic either-or scenario. Applying a shades-of-grey lens to the ideological questions concerning the nature of law, justice, piracy and knowledge, Ellis takes great care not to espouse any ideal but rather cloak it in uncertainty, showcasing only the confusion experienced by a rapidly changing English society.

The artwork of Raulo Caceres impeccably parallels Ellis’s authorship. Shades of navy, amber, lavender and maroon deliberately permeate the work, highlighting predominantly the shadows of London upon each character, each panel. Only the blindingly blue sparks in this pre-electrical era add any brightness to the sketches, drawn in finely intricate woodcut fashion. It is equally fun to gaze at the panels as it is to read.

Captain Swing is a grand synthesis of fiction, history and dark, alluring artwork. Whether for the casual comic fan or for readers with a more academic scrutiny, this work is an impressive exposition on the continuum of societal bedlam and progress.

review but not a review – kraken

It is with both heavy heart and eyelid that I confess that I cannot finish China Mieville’s latest offering Kraken.  Whereas I have been wildly amazed and fascinated with his imaginative offerings like Perdido Street Station, The Scar and his short story collection Looking For Jake, Kraken has cemented within my fragile psyche a valuable rule for my slow reading habits, namely: don’t read shit (and I use that term non-insultingly) that’s too long and underdeveloped.

If  it were simply just long I may have actually finished it by now, but because of his underdeveloped-ness in nearly all aspects of the work, the combination of long-windedness and courageous circumnavigation in terms of character development, setting and pace, not only do I feel “disappointed” in that uneasy parental way (and mind you, I’m probably younger than Mieville), I am simply too upset about it to let it go.

You see, Mieville is a fantastic writer.  I am anxiously looking forward to reading his recent award nominated City and the City, but despite the five hundred plus pages of Kraken, I can’t help but feel he went through the motions with this one.  Or rather, he simply overextended himself and spread his chunky, steampunky imagination too thin on this particularly under-toasted canvas.

The story is about London, its competing cults and the guardian forces surrounding those cults in an age where the archaic meets the digital.  Mieville creates the atmosphere by mentioning all the different groups and entities, but never really describes them in depth, even in passing.  Much of what we gather is through dialogue, particularly of the naive and bewildered main character, Billy Harrow.  Other characters, like The Tattoo, Dane, Wati, Collingswood, and Grisamentum, while all very interesting and mysterious initially, simply fade away into their own colorful dialogue without any real descriptive depth into their character. Quite simply, too many characters, too little detail. Furthermore, in his appreciation beaming technology and stun settings, Mieville attempts to bridge fantasy with science fiction in the work, and almost succeeds; however, an undertaking like this cannot compete with so many other variables in an already overreaching work.  Lastly, the feel and mystique of London is really lost in the comings and goings of these events and people; perhaps this a book specifically written for Londoners, but the description however, simply didn’t emanate.

The more I think about it, the more I feel Kraken is simply a thought experiment, a literary dry-erase board full of image dropping and references to pop/sub culture than it is a tightly coherent work of fiction. It’s simply too busy, a overly-written mash of fancy that never really coalesces.


With the intention of padding my blog with extra content, I’ll add another review I recently submitted on LibraryThing. The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes is well worth the time spent reading.

The Somnambulist - Jonathan Barnes

A bizarre, not so modern mystery

Edward Moon is a “conjurer”, an entertainer struggling to preserve what little reputation and income he has left. Among polite society he is now more likely considered a laughingstock than the once promising investigator propelled by his sharpened abilities of examination. Considered past his prime, his Las Vegas-styled evening show, set in Victorian era London, is now only attracting the fanatically faithful. So Moon, along with the Somnambulist, his giant, deathly pale, almost human-like partner in crime-solving and fright inducing sidekick, is bored. Yet that is about to change.

As far as crime solving duos go could this very well be the Victorian era predecessor to our modern day Starsky and Hutch? As far as mysteries go, probably not so much, as Sherlock and Watson might have proven a more apt comparison. At least Watson talked. The Somnambulist, on the other hand, doesn’t; he would rather accompany Moon silently grasping his pints of milk.

If such a bizarre introduction to The Somnambulist intrigues you, then by all means delve deeper than the surface just scratched, as this book by Jonathan Barnes turns more curious by the page. But it is as entertaining as it is strange; Moon is as stubbornly cynical, full of snark as he is determined to solve what is the most important threat facing London. And the Somnambulist is, well, the Somnambulist. But will that threat be The Directorate, an assassin known only as The Mongoose, the fun-loving Prefects, or the very literary Chairman itself? Full of intrigue, murder, and curiosity, this story is all wrapped up into a very sharply-written novel. It’s dark, creepy, and humorously suspenseful. And it’s only the first novel written by Barnes.