Tuesday, 29 May 2012

'The Battle of Blood and Ink' - Jared Axelrod & Steve Walker (Tor)

These days I normally have quite the low tolerance threshold for books that really aren't working for me. Fifty to a hundred pages in and if it's not working out then down the book goes. Every now and then though a book pops up that I end up finishing despite myself. 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' is only a hundred and thirty five pages long and I kept thinking to myself, 'it's not that much further to go, stick with it for a few more pages and then have some chocolate as a reward...' I also kept thinking, 'it's steampunk so something cool is bound to happen in a couple of pages.' It turns out that I was wrong.

In a slightly different approach to the normal reviews here you're getting a 'copied and pasted' blurb here (the reasons for which will become apparent later on...)

If you're visiting the flying city of Amperstam without the latest printing of The Lurker's Guide, you might as well be lost. This one-sheet is written, edited, and printed by Ashe, a girl raised on the streets of the flying city, and is dedicated to revealing its hidden treasures and deepest secrets-including many that the overcontrolling government doesn't want anyone to know. The stakes are raised when Ashe accidentally uncovers the horror of exactly how Amperstam travels among the skies and garners the attention of those who would rather that secret be kept in the hands of the city's powerful leaders.

Soon Ashe is on the run from thugs and assassins, faced with the choice of imperiling her life just to keep publishing, or giving in to the suggestion of a rich patron that she trade in her voice and identity for a quiet, comfortable life. It's a war of confusion for Ashe, but one thing is very clear: just because you live in a flying city, you can't always keep your head in the clouds.

I think my biggest issue here was with the art, or lack of it. We're talking about a steampunk graphic novel here and if steampunk is about anything it's about the whole look of the thing isn't it? We're talking all the ornate glory of 'Victoriana' with added airships and deathrays. At least that's what I thought until I opened the book and got reading. Everything is in black and white for a start and normally that doesn't have to be a bad thing if the detail is there to back things up (I'm thinking 'The Walking Dead' here). With 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' though, all the black and white art does is to show up just how little detail there is. It all feels very transparent and I was left very aware that I was looking at a backdrop to the story rather than a background that added to the proceedings in any way.

Moving onto how the characters themselves are depicted... It seems to be the fashion these days to give the reader a few preliminary sketches, at the back of the book, to show you how the character came to be (and what they could have been). 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' is the only graphic novel I've ever seen where the cast of characters actually regress from their preliminary sketches. It should have been the other way round, it really should. If that wasn't bad enough, the characters all look really awkward during the course of the plot; everything looks staged rather than in motion...

Moving onto the plot and I think that the nicest thing you can say here is that it is ambitious, wanting to say an awful lot about a number of things. The only problem here that there's only a hundred and thirty five pages to fit all of this ambition into and it was never going to fit. What you get instead is a passing nod to a number of themes, none of which are truly expanded upon. I'd like to think that this is all about setting things up for the future but we are led to believe that a few of these sub-plots are actually rounded off and finished up with. If they are then it's not a particularly satisfactory conclusion, not when you don't get to actually see how things work out. I did like the one page issue of 'The Lurker's Guide' though, I wish we could have had a little more along those lines...

I think a hundred extra pages could have done 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' the world of good as we would have been able to get a better look at the city of Amperstam and its inhabitants. We would have actually seen character development and why things were happening instead of being forced to take the books word for it. As it is though, 'The Battle of Blood and Ink' comes across as poorly planned and poorly presented. Don't let me stop you giving it a go (one man's meat is another man's, erm... something else?) but I can't see myself picking up any more books in the series.

Five out of Ten

1 comment:

Jamie Gibbs said...

I'll remain on the lookout for a steampunk graphic novel that really grips me. Thanks for the review :)