Seizure Romero's Reviews > A Darkling Plain

A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve
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's review
Dec 29, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: sf-fantasy, steampunk, mine
Read in February, 2008

WARNING: This diatribe contains potential spoilers and rude language. It is also long. Proceed with caution.

Dear Philip Reeve: I really enjoy the books in your Hungry City Chronicles. They are fine stories with creative and compelling plots, often amusing dialog and interesting characters. You are, however, starting to piss me off. I'm on page 61 of the fourth book and I come to the following passage:

"Lady Naga made a horrible gurgling noise, like the last of the bathwater heading down the plughole. Theo took a step forward and waved the axe, but he was too gentle to use it, and he knew Cynthia knew it. Remembering the girl's vanity, he said, 'You look different....'"

Now what *my* reader may not know is that Cynthia, who has already been established as one of the 'bad guys,' is in the process of strangling Lady Naga, whom Theo is escorting and theoretically protecting. Call me nuts, call me violent, call me a psycho with anger management issues, but if I see someone who has already attempted to kill me strangling someone I like or am expected to protect, and I happen to have the good fortune to find myself holding an axe, I am pretty certain I will hit them with the fucking axe. I might not be so far gone that I will definitely use the blade-- the flat side or blunt end or even using the handle are all options-- but I repeat, I will hit them with the fucking axe. The only possible dialogue I can imagine engaging in would be something along the lines of, "Stop strangling -------, or I will hit you with the fucking axe."


This is an incomplete review. I will add to it when I'm finished with the book. My current questions are:

Why is the good, kind and handsome hero always so goddam useless in a crisis?

Why are the women who are the strong ones or the ones willing to "get the job done" either ugly & slightly nuts, or attractive & completely nuts?

There seems to be no middle ground here. There was one character who was strong, capable, kind AND neither gorgeous nor particularly ugly...but she's 'dead' and is being used in disturbing ways.

"It is complete now; two ends of time are neatly tied..." (finish that cheating).

I have to admit I liked the ending/epilogue of this book (and series), but getting there was occasionally an irritation. At times it was like an old radio serial: the heroes seem to be in a safe place where they just might get a breather, BUT WAIT! Unbeknownst to our heroes: ninjas, Dr. Klaw, Lex Luthor AND The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu are all hiding in a trunk; meanwhile, a stray bullet/crossbow bolt/ICBM/woodpecker has pierced the balloon and the airship is now sinking toward the Ancient & Scary Field of Rusty Razor Blades and Other Sharp, Dangerous & Unpleasant Things!

I exaggerate only a little.

My previously stated complaints still stand (though at one point Theo DID actually hit someone with the flat side of an axe, so, yay). It seemed like somewhere along the line Mr. Reeve decided that happy endings are just SO recherché and he'll be damned if he gives us one. I do not require a happy ending (unless back rubs are involved--boomchickaWAWwaw), but when it feels like the author is trying too hard to avoid a cliché ending, the ensuing machinations to guarantee unhappiness feel contrived. And the semi-subtle moralizing-- good people don't hurt/kill under ANY circumstances, and I'm going to put my characters through hell to prove it-- just plain got tired. Then I end up writing long, cranky reviews which sound as if I liked these books a lot less than I did. I guess my real disappointment with the Hungry City Chronicles is that they are good books that could have been great.

Done now. No, really.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Mike A "good, kind and handsome hero NOT useless in a crisis?" Doc Savage. Tarzan. Indiana Jones. Basically, the model pulp-action hero of the 1930's
Your female leads question? I have now idea; I think that female leads are only beginning to come into their own here in the 21st century. Maybe Laura Croft -- from the movies, she doesn't seem to have baggage holding her back, although she has some eccentric hobbies.

Seizure Romero My complaint is specific to this series (please note "Dear Philip Reeve" at the beginning of my tirade. Easy to see how that may have gotten lost in the ensuing verbal deluge). Reeve may or may not have issues with women, but it sure felt like it in these books. I'd have to re-read it for specific examples (there were others), but a quick glance around the room (at the stacks of unread books) says that's probably not going to happen any time soon. This was not meant as general commentary. *If* one is looking for strong female characters, Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series is a good place to start, as are many of the steampunk anthologies I've read lately.

Mike Oops! Well, this author or all authors, I meant no criticism of your opinion, I just thought I would offer a counterpoint.
I think it has been 7 years since I read my last Hungry Cities book, and like you, I have too many things to do, to go back (unless my youngest boy picks this up.) But I think you are right -- all the characters were somehow damaged and let me down.

Seizure Romero No offense taken! I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I've read only one Doc Savage novel, and that was years ago. Since you brought it up: The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps is a lot of fun if you're a fan of two-fisted tough guys.

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