I have a reading policy when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy: I will not read part of a continuing trilogy or series without having read its predecessors. It just makes sense.
When Engines of the Apocalypse arrived unexpectedly for review I broke that policy – albeit unwittingly – and I have to say that I’m very glad that I did!
You see, I had never heard of the Twilight of Kerberos series. I hadn’t read a review, had never heard of the tomb-raiding adventurer, Kali Hooper, and in going about my professional geeky research duties had never come across a press release for it. My first meeting with the heroes (and villains) of Twilight was when I opened the HarperCollins package.
There was no indication that this was number X of Y in a series other than a brief “Also by the same author” blurb on the back – ignoring it, I set to reading and was immediately hooked. By the time it became clear that Kali had had a previous adventure earlier in the series I didn’t care.
I was very quickly drawn to Mike Wild’s style of narrative and language. From the top of the second page in chapter one, when Kali’s ill-fated guide, Slack, announces that she’ll find treasure to make her “come over all tremblous in the underknicks”, and Kali’s reflection two paragraphs later that things had gone “tits up” we are left in no doubt that this is a fantasy series not afraid to plant its tongue firmly in its cheek.
So, to the plot then, and things going “tits up” is what sets the whole story in motion.
Kali Hooper is a pub landlord and some-time adventurer possessed of preternatural agility and acrobatic skill that she has always taken for granted but put to good use. Obvious comparisons can be drawn with Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but Kali is by no means another Croft clone – I was never a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise for its story-telling, but I quickly grew to love Kali Hooper as she struggles in the face of sometimes impossible odds.
Upon finding Slack’s underknick-tremble-inducing treasure, our heroine begins her journey back out of the underground cavern just at it begins to collapse around her (yeah, she should’ve seen that coming).
Emerging from the cavern intact she discovers that the world around her has gone to hell, or The Hells, to use the world’s vernacular. A giant, spinning war machine hangs and hums in the air above her and a series of earthquakes has devastated the town.
Despite a series of daring and selfless rescues in the midst of all this chaos, Kali finds herself charged with causing the destruction and sentenced to death by the zealous Final Faith. Only an eleventh-hour agreement with a Faith enforcer, to help him investigate the disappearance of The Faith’s leader, saves her from being burned alive.
Kali’s investigations lead her to discover the origins of the war machine, the truth that drives the Final Faith in their crusade and a secret about herself and her abilities that foreshadows terrible challenges that she may yet face.
Kali is accompanied her lover, Killiam Slowhand, an almost supernaturally gifted archer who is also the brother-in-law of the Faith enforcer who stopped Kali from being executed. Despite being an infamous philanderer with a prized collection of underknicks in his trophy drawer, Slowhand is clearly in love with Kali. He casts aside his own quest to avenge the death of his sister, working side-by-side with man he has sworn to kill in order to help Kali save the Faith leader and possibly the world.
Overseeing Kali’s secondment to the Final Faith is the fiery and passionate warrior, Gabriella DeZantes. This sister of the Swords of Dawn, despite being sworn to uphold the faith that Kali despises, finds her way into Kali’s heart and the two begin to form what might pass for a friendship between two opposing warriors.
The world that Kali inhabits is the world of Man. This is a fantasy series where the Old Races (Elves, Dwarves, Dragons etc.) have long since died out and left behind them a legacy of hidden, advanced technologies, forgotten dark magic and half-remembered legends. Many of the humans on the world of Twilight – a moon orbiting the gas giant Kerberos – refuse to even believe that the Old Races existed.
As I alluded to earlier, Engines of the Apocalypse is peppered with humorous dialogue and descriptions – it’s the only fantasy novel I’ve ever read with a fart joke in it – but as a serious contender in the ever growing fantasy arena it should definitely not be over-looked. If the previous instalments in the series did not establish this fantasy series as an emergent classic (and that is no criticism, for I have not read them – yet) then Mike Wild’s action-packed hack-n-slash has done the job.
Despite the previous instalments to the series, Engines of the Apocalypse works fine as a stand-alone and any pre-requisite knowledge is filled in along the way as Kali brings companions new and old up to speed. Given the choice I’d have started with book one, but this is an excellent jump in point if you’re lazy or just in a hurry.
If you’re the type who loved the Lord of the Rings movies but found the books long-winded and slow to advance, or if you loved Dragonlance for Raistlin and Tasslehoff Burrfoot – that doorknob of a Kender – in equal measure then I suggest you jump in to Twilight of Kerberos feet first. It is a collection I intend to complete, and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.