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Monday, July 30, 2012

A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

Hi there!
Welcome back to Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers…the place to be when its doomy and gloomy out but the reading weather calls for fair skies. 

Not doomy and gloomy in your neck of the woods?  Lucky!  Here I awoke to dark gray skies with about 100% chance of rain (some of which I’ve already seen/heard in a downpour this morning)…oh well, I do work ALL day so provided it’s not too bad during my “jetting” hours, I’ll be okay.  (Now if it rains tomorrow after job one I may not be such a happy camper…)  The focus on the sky today is what chose today’s featured title…and apparently those that pop up later this week as I review my schedule (hmm, how curious) and even the current state of my visitors to the site…. as I had actually intended upon reflecting a bit more on this one prior to reviewing it.  Why?  Well, it was a bit of a challenge for me and that’s just how my brain works through them sometimes.  Anywho, curious what title was selected?  Wonder no more!  Today’s book of choice is….

Illustrated by

From the publisher
The superheroes of Arcadia City fight a wonderful war and play a wonderful game, forever saving yet another day. However, after sacrificing both their powers and Ultimate, the greatest hero of them all, to defeat the latest apocalypse, these comic book characters are transformed from the marvelous into the mundane.

After too many battles won and too many friends lost, The Soldier of Freedom was fine letting all that glory go. But when a new threat blasts through his city, Soldier, as ever, accepts his duty and reenlists in this next war. Without his once amazing abilities, he's forced to seek the help of the one man who walked away, the sole hero who refused to make the sacrifice--PenUltimate, the sidekick of Ultimate, who through his own rejection of the game has become the most powerful man in the world, the only one left who might still, once again, save the day.

*deep breath*

So, where to begin.  Let me start out by saying that I do not normally read purely Science Fiction or Fantasy novels…aside from your Young Adult or Children’s picks.  I’m a fiction fan through and through but this world….I’ve only sampled in passing, courtesy of The Hobbit and His Dark Materials; both of which I rather enjoyed.  This would mark my first super hero book (though not my last as I’ve another on the horizon) and though curious in concept because the synopsis up there truly did draw my attention, it was more of a trial for me in the reading.  Let’s get down to basics…the good and the not-my-cup-of-super-enhanced tea…

The actual star of the book isn’t really PenUltimate (though likable enough after you know more about him) like you might imagine…especially since he’s the one that can supposedly save the day now that all the super powers left in Arcadia…are his own.  No, the real (and present) star of this story is The Soldier of Freedom.  Sounds impressive right?  Until you take a look at him.  He’s trying to “do the right thing” I assume, aside from all the drinking and killing but in my mind, he never really measures up.  I mean KUDOS for taking orders from Star-Knight and Ultimate once upon a time and WELL DONE for fighting battle after battle, war after war (even to some degree when you had lost everything) just so someone could win and someone could lose, but if that’s your whole existence, I’m not sure I really see a point.  To me, he needed more of a goal as opposed to simply being the tool (not meant rudely) of destruction he was.

The back stories of each character, something we often get introduced to at the beginning of a story, are slowly revealed over time and the actual truth of those events shared, doesn’t really come out till the big showdown at book’s end.  Apparently legends are not as squeaky clean as Johnny Q Public might be told and with all we learn about The Man with the Metal Face, I’m not so “Team Ultimate”.  I mean, he might’ve saved a lot of innocent people over time but really, his start was beyond violent.  Can’t blame him too much…he is a machine after all and we don’t truly know what his intended purpose was so his violent streak could have been intentional, but really…would you get yourself involved with a killer robot just because the events unfolding play right into your comic obsessed brain?  I get it to a degree; he was a kid (but which one in the story?  Another mystery for YOU to solve….) just trying to make sense of things, but I don’t think the alliance made was necessarily the smartest choice….again that could just be the non-sci-fi part of me talking though.

The twist at the end is unexpected, partially.  I actually guessed Prophetier’s identity early on in the story…I’d tell you when, but then I’d have to kill you (no, really…it’d spoil the surprise). It’s a telling moment that says hey world; I’m born of pain but will show you what’s for….a tad hard to miss.  The END end though, is a real game of cloak and dagger.  There’s no way to see that one coming, heck even Prophetier didn’t and hello, his name screams “I-see-the-future”.  It shines a new light on many characters exposed within the novel, it may even make you second guess just who is good and who was merely playing the game, but as for me…I’m still holding to my aforementioned conceptions. 

In the end, it’s a story of heroes both those deserving of the title and those that merely fall into it.  It shows us that you don’t need super powers to do the right thing and there is any number of ways to save the day if we’re only willing to put the effort forth for the greater good.  Things may not always end the way we intended but at least we can say that we didn’t go down without a fight…and according to these guys, that’s about as good as it gets. 

As for this reader, I’m not sorry I tried this story of Arcadia…only that I didn’t ever reach the heights of flight in my reading I had hoped for.  There were times where I’d be reading and thoroughly confused as to what was happening, but then taking a step back from the actual page, I could piece meal it together to ascertain what was going on….speaks well to the writing in my mind, that nudge of subliminal story telling.  Overall though, between the dialogue, the large cast of characters and the unfamiliar terrain, this book and I simply was not a good match.  Hey, it happens!  You win some, you lose some but just like the heroes or wannabes in this story, “they always come back”….the good reads that is…and I’m already making progress in my next adventure.  A recommended read for sci-fi and comic book fans as how often do you see a full length novel with panels included enhancing the story?  Not very…and from the reception I’ve seen of this story from a few friends that do dally in this genre more often, it certainly has potential for the right audience.

ARC for review courtesy of Simon and Schuster.  (THANKS!)  For more information about this title as well as their full catalog, feel free to visit them online.  To discover more about the writer behind the work, you can follow or like author Tom King on several social media outlets.  To further investigate the world of Arcadia and see just who is who and what is what, check out the official site…complete with book excerpt, select panels from the book and a basic character guide (well, they call them posters, but I think they work for a guide).  This book was released this month and should be available now on a bookstore shelf near you.

Until next time…happy reading!

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