Monday, June 29, 2015

The Rise of Nivin Pauly and the success of Premam!

Premam is probably now in its sixth week – blasting past all past records in the box office, romping away to be a cult movie now. I saw the movie late – yesterday. And I say this with no hesitation.

Nivin Pauly is a star.

A natural and consummate actor who makes you roll around in splits at his goofy earthiness, at his earnest attempts at writing a love-letter, then gets you pumped up and cheering wildly as he lights up the cigarette and walks out in the pouring rain to bash up the baddies and then gets you to cry and bawl your lungs at his brilliant portrayal of a broken-hearted man. He is the full package and he gets his due in Premam, a coming-of-age romantic comedy that sees him play George – who falls in love, breaks his heart, holds those stinging broken shards of sweet romance close and then finally learns to let go and find an anchor for his wayward life. Three girls, three love-stories. Each bitter-sweet and reminiscent of stages we’ve all gone through. This nostalgia packed in with some brilliant performances by all the actors – combined with skilful direction and editing by Alphonse Puthren ( of Neram fame), mesmerising cinematography by Anand C Chandran, soul-stirring and foot-tapping music by Rajesh Murugesan – it’s no wonder Premam is going to be one of the best Malayalam movies in recent times.

Drenched in copious sepia-tinted nostalgic moments, the story starts off in George’s ( the lead character played by Nivin) bumbling pre-degree days – smitten by this queen bee in school, Mary (Played by debutante Anupama Parameswaran) he follows her home every evening back from the school till the bridge leading to her house – wanting to propose his undying love to her. The hesitant, faltering doubt-riddled romance of the teenager riding high on hormonal over-drive is essayed with full aplomb by the two leading actors – Nivin trying hard to be a fresh faced cleanly scrubbed 16-year old while Anupama turns in a pretty decent performance for her first movie. But what strikes you right from the first frame is the camera work. Immersive and alive. The shot of the fried items and eatables in the tea-shop as characters chatter in the backdrop building the hype around this queen bee whom every guy in the area wants to romance – it pulls you in to the movie like nothing else. The wide angle shot of a guy standing under the bridge while the three friends scramble up the steps lugging their cycles to catch up with their best friends’ heart throb. It sets the tone for the movie. You know you’re in for something special.

The best part of the movie for me (and so for a lot of others I presume) was the second romance. We find George in 2005 in college final year – Full beard, lit cigarette and an over-load of smouldering machismo attitude while the rock-fused  “Kallipu” plays in the background making for a brilliant entrance. ( I know I probably sound more like a fan boy!) [And as the lyrics go, the drum beats are going mad in your chest, your legs are spasming and hands itching and jack-knifing up and down to get down and get bloody!] Sai Pallavi, playing Nivin’s teacher at the college is a breath of fresh air to the Malayalam cinema. She effortlessly essays the role of Malar – with whom George falls madly in love at first sight. Their romance is natural and builds up pretty well – the best song in the movie [“Malare” sung full throated by Vijay Yesudas is a beautiful ballad of love] setting up things. Sai Pallavi with her underplayed expressions brings the scene alive in one particular scene as she breaks into an impromptu “koothu” dance while choreographing for George and friends. Their romance is short changed though – [ And am not spoiling things for you here!] and Nivin Pauly’s amazing broken-hearted act at the end of this stage alone should get him nominated for an award this year. [ if not for the bankability in terms of box-office returns!]

We meet George again in late 2014 running his own café – mature, mustachioed and looking his age. And while the memories of his last heart break still haunts him, when Celin a girl much younger than him ( Played by Madonna Sebastian, she of the beautiful bambi-eyes and coy-smile) approaches him one late night to buy a cake, things take wing. There are issues with this romance, yes. Too short and maybe not fully played out. But it underlines the movie message that love, the oldest of human emotions is effervescent. Like fresh shoots springing up after the last torrents of the rain to replace the wilted flowers of last season.

A word about the cast of actors. Take a bow! Young actors, all of them are absolutely brilliant in their side roles and live it up fully to the hilt. Be it Krishna Shankar & Shabareesh Verma ( Koya and Shambu, best friends with George as they stick with him through the different stages of his life without question offering their opinions and backing him up fully) or be it Siju Wilson ( Jijo), George’s side kick. And there's this 2-bit cameo by Sharafuddin that will have you in splits. A special word about Vinay Fort. This guy has a comic timing that is unbeatable. A rhythm like a beatbox dancer when it comes to his dialog delivery. The scene where he is explaining how simple is Java to his students or plotting with George’s friends on how to impress Malar by claiming he’s got 900 acres of Pears in his Ooty farm are hilarious. So is Soubin Shahir playing his sidekick, the PT master with his never-ending supply of ideas.

Anand’s wizardry with the camera focussing on the flitting sparrow or the submerged frog in the pool and the ever-green verdant luxurious plains of Kerala during the monsoon are just absolutely master-class. And the music is an effortless part of the narrative, Rajesh scoring well again after the success of Neram. Malaree, Aluva Puzha and Rockankoothu will be hummed for a long time afterwards.

All in all, Premam as a movie works like nothing else because of its treatment of the subject. Love – we’ve all had our flings – the unspoken unrequited infatuation of our teenage, the mad reckless dangerous love of our young adult days and then the quiet calming mature love that endures and sees us through. It’s a movie without any pretences – a natural, extremely sensibly handled movie about love and friendship, Premam is the toast of the new age Malayalam movies that are coming out with brilliant sensible scripts these days. Alphonse Puthren announced himself with Neram and then clearly makes a grab for the throne with this. He truly hits the ball out of the park.

And Nivin Pauly’s golden touch at the box office continues.

Premam could well be the inflection point for this actor. ( Someone say, Chitram for Mohanlal?) He is pure gold. Thattathin Marayathu, 1983, Om Shanthi Oshana, Bangalore Days, Oru Vadakan Selfie and now Premam tops the golden chalice that he is drinking from. It’s only the start of great things for our man and I know he is rising steadily to become one of Mollywood’s best actors in recent times. God Speed and Good luck, Mr. Pauly.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

It's been a while since I've read a good thriller. a genuinely shivers-down-the-spine kinda book that delves into the psyche - belonging to the good old school of psychological suspense - and keeps me up way beyond my sleep-time.

The Quality of Silence fits the bill perfectly. I got this book on NetGalley during an early promo-giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This is my first Rosamund Lupton book and definitely not the last ever. This chilling thriller that follows the travails of a mother-daughter duo in the icy barren expanses of Alaska as they try to track down their husband/father lost after a deadly accident in the wild reads like a tight-rope walk with no leeway for a single false step - the plot is interesting yes but it's the characterization of the mother-daughter duo that really won my heart. Especially Ruby, the deaf girl who's so brave, kind and retains her child-like purity in a world of evil. Despite all her problems.

So Yasmin and her daughter Ruby land up in Alaska for a Christmas reunion with her husband, Matt - who's filming wildlife in Alaska. But trouble brews - as she is confronted by the terrible news of a fire-accident in the village where he was supposed to be staying - the entire village having been wiped out. Yasmin's had her problems with Matt - staying away from her husband and now wants to give themselves a chance to revive their flagging relationship. Ruby, born with a hearing problem, nevertheless is a bright chirpy kid with a wonderful unrelenting sense of joie de vivre. She is way too bright for her age and shares a close bond with her father; for her the trip means a happy reunion with her dad.

Yasmin refuses to believe the news even as cops try to dissuade her - and she bravely sets forth all by herself ( along with Ruby) to go find her husband. Her trust and belief is unshakeable and despite the odds [And these are many! hurdles one after the other - starting off with no planes to fly to this village, then truckers refusing to give her a lift, the weather gods being angry and a mysterious stalker who follows them all through the wild ice-cold expanses.] Yasmin presses on, resolute in her beliefs and not wanting to disappoint her daughter.

The novel in parts is a high-stakes chase as the mysterious stalker keeps after Yasmin and Ruby through the stillness of the night despite the flurry of high-speed snow-storms crashing eighteen-wheeler trucks against the mountains. There are white-knuckle moments interspersed throughout the book as Yasmin struggles to drive the truck on lonely snow-ridden mountain-passes with the stalker in hot pursuit, jamming her from reversing, almost causing them to crash down the ravines. Terrifyingly real moments. But at the heart of it, it's a gritty story of survival against nature - and of love. Fighting hypothermia, frostbite, the dark chasm of dark hopelessness, Yasmin fights on to reunite her daughter with her husband. A fantastic portrayal of a female protagonist, Yasmin is (yes) a beautiful woman who knows that she is beautiful. But it's her fearlessness and her alacrity in thinking that saves both on more than one occasion.

The black dark barren expanses of Alaska is as much a character in the whole book as these two though. Never for a moment does Rosamund let us forget that what is beautiful can be dangerous as well. Especially true for a land like Alaska - Yes it has the Aurora Borealis but it also has it's minus-fifty degrees killer storms whipping in at hundred-and-eighty kilometers per hour and nine-hundred miles of dead snow without a single tree spread over mountains.

What elevates the book above the ordinary is the rhythm. It's got an effortless rhythm in terms of the flowing narrative - never jarring. It maintains the taut edge-of-the-seat act till about three-fourths of the novel and then it slowly starts to unravel. The dialog is crisp and heart-warming. especially Ruby's maxims on life - a ten-year old perspective that is absolutely delightful. There are several moments in the book that illustrate and stay true to the name, Quality of Silence. Is it golden? Or is it multi-hued like a sparkling rainbow?

Evocative. Suspenseful. And heart-warming, Quality of Silence is a must-read book that celebrates the  triumph of the human spirit. For me personally, the book being set in Alaska, a land little known outside the scientific circles, brings to color in an authoritative manner, the ways of life in this icy expanse where the sun can be a distant memory and the black night your companion for days. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson

Jo Fletcher books from Quercus Publishing has always come out with great books in the speculative fiction genre - unearthing gems like Aidan Harte, Sarah Pinborough, Mazarkis Williams to name a few. They can proudly count Iceland-born London based Snorri Kritjansson in that rank. A find, a very fine one at that.

Swords of Good Men is Snorri's debut and an accomplished piece of writing that firmly catapults him to the A-list of Fantasy writers. Set in the land of the fierce Vikings - Scandinava is brought to life adeptly by Snorri in the Valhalla Saga # 1 - featuring one too many bloodthirsty warriors caught in the middle of a huge melee. Huge burly bearded fellows swinging a mean double bladed axe, longships plowing through crashing waves, unbreachable tall garrison walls, blonde-haired goddesses. You name it, the book's nailed it dead right in terms bringing Viking folklore alive. Swords of Good Men is ultimately a big long drawn out bloody battle between three different groups of Vikings seeking the gates of Valhalla. The whole book is just a build-up towards that final battle - that lasts  good one-fourth of a book and delivers every bit on the pulse-pounding gory action craving.

The story really doesn't pause anywhere from the moment Ulfar Thormodssen, a young man finishing off a long weary world journey and is on his way home, sets foot on the tiny island of Stenvik - the last stop on this journey. However, Stenvik is the focal point of a war brewing between two different marauding parties ( Vikings each - but both with different religious sentiments - Skargrim under the influence of a mysterious lady Skuld who is pulling the strings to get the warring parties to converge and take over Stenvik - the agenda isn't clear until the end chapters. Young King Olav, a recent complete convert to the cause of the White Christ and earnestly wanting to spread the message into Stenvik, rushing in with a huge war-party to the cause)  Caught in the middle of these warring parties are the Villagers - battle-hardened veterans one and all, led from the front by a cunning, able chieftain in Sigurd. Ulfar and his cousin, Geiri get unwittingly drawn into the violent proceedings. and to make things worse, Ulfar falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful young woman named Lillia in the village - already married to an abusive war-chieftain Harald. The love-story though doesn't really blossom out with the focus shifting back to the rising clouds of war over this tiny village. Because soon things turn bloody. rivers of blood, spilled entrails, axes singing, arrows flying and the swords hacking.

So Snorri can write a rousing story - and get your nerves jangled up with all the tension spilling from the pages as the action ramps up several notches. You'd be right down breathless from the scorching pace that he sets out - never taking the foot off the pedal. Though with this approach, he probably has sacrificed a bit on the characterization parts. You never get to spend too long with one character before you're whipped around to another. The events tumble past you - switching perspectives at the drop of a hat. While it is not so much of a complaint personally as I think it worked for me - the only complaint that I had - was with the unveiling of secrets/plots. There are several going on - at the same time. Chiefly three major wheels of action: Ulfar on the Island of Stenvik, getting dragged into the politics of war, making friends with Audun - the big burly blacksmith with a devastating secret of his own and Sven, the grizzled old war-veteran and right-hand man of the Village chieftain. He is 'pitched' to be the 'hero' of the series and undergoes the maximum character evolution. Then there is Skargrim - charging across foaming seas with his warships and galleys towards Stenvik, a puppet in the hands of the mysterious lady Skuld and all his war-chiefs behind him. Thora, his lieutenant makes for some colorful entries on the pages and was someone you would love. The third force is King Olav and his unshakable faith in the White Christ - at the head of a huge army on the way to annex the tiny village of Stenvik to the Christian domination. While these stories collide - and that collision makes up for better than last quarter of the whole book [ and hell, it's downright entertaining. large scale massive efforts to scale the fort walls, one-on-one scuffles - it's all there!] I was trying hard to understand what's the motive for Skargrim's desperate attempt on warring with Stenvik. Especially with tidbits thrown in about his past connection with both Sven and Sigurd.

And another big complaint was the abrupt end to the proceedings. Yes there is a massive twist/shocker at the end but I still felt short-changed as the pages stopped flipping. [ yeah. I was flipping like there was no tomorrow!] It's ultimately more historical fiction - the authentic portrayal of a Viking village and life-ways adeptly done. But the final few chapters hold a nice surprise - making this a low fantasy at the end of the day.

So if you're looking for a great Viking story - full of rousing action, a story on blistering jet-fuel and some heart-warming heroes to cheer for - then look no further than this one. Swords of Good Men makes for a splendid debut for Snorri Kristjansson and I for one will be watching his works.

Blood will follow and so it should. Here I come!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Beyond Redemption by Michael R Fletcher

Beyond Redemption by Michael R Fletcher is a book that will feature in the "Best of Lists" for a lot of fantasy lovers in 2015. It is a startlingly original story - cloaked in bloody violence and grim darkness yes but where it absolutely scores is the evocative world-building and the fantastic characterization that is second to none. Full of hard men and women in a world gone mad where your beliefs define reality and then again, nothing is ever real.

Beyond Redemption is Canadian author Michael R Fletcher's second book and purportedly his experiments of exploring the themes of schizophrenia in a fantasy setting. Well, for me the experiment succeeds wildly! What Michael has created in "Beyond Redemption" may not be the first choice of "best reads in 2015" for a lot many traditionalists but he's bucked all major fantasy genre trends here creating a multi-layered complex narrative riddled with raving mad scheming schizos each baying for the others' blood in a world - that never seems real. 'Afterdeath' is a reality. Mirrors can be dangerous, for your reflections may kill you. Your very own emotion may kill you. Slavers can enslave you with just mere words. What you believe is reality. And you never know if the Gods you created are your worst enemies or best friends. 

The book features many POVs - and the whole world has a teutonic feel to it, largely owing to the free usage of german terms [ Gefahrgeists or sociopaths, Geisteskranken or the insane ] and the germanic-sounding character names. Konig Furimmer is a theocrat - in a world controlled by the beliefs of such ( a religious head, a Geisteskranken whose beliefs have created an entire city by itself] and he plans to "construct" a God - thereby controlling the beliefs and lives of all those who follow this new religion called Geboren Damonen. Konig has carefully groomed a child by the name of Morgen who will one day "ascend" to be their God. And in this venture, he is assisted by his chief scientist Auschlag whose experiments with the sane and insane have created many Geisteskranken as well.

In to this mad milieu, come in a set of three mercenaries: Bedekt, a scarred old warrior near the end of his times looking for that one last job that will comfortably see him through retirement. Stehlen, a shadow-assassin kleptomaniac - known as Kleptic - a tough female whose bitterness and foul temper is only matched by her willingness and penchant for violence and stealing. And last, Wichtig - whose only aim in life ( and afterdeath) is to be World's Greatest Swordsman - a gift for gab and swordsmanship that sees him through tussles and bar-room brawls. Their last job is 'Morgen' - the God-Child and kidnapping him just seems like their ticket to escape their mercenary life.

Well laid plans never go well. And the trio were never clear about the execution of such anyways. Konig sends his pet 'Hassebrand" [ pyromaniacs who can set things & people on fire with just the thought ] Gehirin Schlectes after the trio - but the world outside can be a treacherous place. Slavers who get people to worship them with just mere words  or looks. The walking dead who double up as assassins. Shape-shifters whose loyalty and love is undaunted. The dangers and distractions in this world as wrought by the beliefs of the insane are many. It definitely makes for entertaining read.

It's a spiraling meltdown of schizophrenia, a rabid kinetic blast of madness given free rein. Body counts pile up higher than most books. There are no good guys here. Hell, you cannot even trust your bloody reflection. it is this mounting sense of tension and mistrust that forms a common thread throughout all characters - all deranged, psychosomatic certified lunatics - some with a craze for power, some for blood-letting and violence, some for science, some for fire and some for self-adulation. This need underlies the world building. where cities are formed up based on beliefs and religions go to war over self-constructed Gods.

There are no favorite characters for me in this book - I really couldn't back anyone. But the most fascinating for me personally was perhaps Morgen - the God-Child whose potential is limitless and the last few chapters that see him realize his potential were bloody awesome. Wichtig with his wise-cracks and self-manipulative wiliness comes a close second - his desire to become the Greatest Swordsman was an interesting affectation that was laid bare well by Michael. Other characters that I greatly admired were the 'Doppels' - Konig's never-trusting backstabbing squabbling emotions like Trepidation, Acceptance and more. Mind-blowingly well-done!

Michael's writing is lucid and easy and it helps keep things moving inspite of it being such a heavy subject. I did feel the book is a bit messy in terms of the POV shifts and the fact that you're inside the deranged minds of some highly dangerous lunatics causes these shifts to be even more confusing. And at times, the narratives tends be a bit loose - tending to be ala Steven-Erikson-style philosophically meandering. I don't know if Michael considers Steven Erikson's magnum opus the Malazan books to be an influence but reading Beyond Redemption did at times feel a wee bit like that. The world building is colossal and comparable and the characters are pure gold mad-genius.

But rest assured, it's a blast of a read that you cannot put down once you get started. The world tilts. slides. and then explosively surges forward on a downward slope from where there is no looking back. There are no training harnesses here. Michael hits you a massive wallop with this nutjob of a fantasy novel - where nothing is sacrosanct. Full points for the thought-provoking originality where supposedly he set out to explore Schizophrenia in the context of Fantasy. He hits it out of the bloody park with this book. If you like to be surprised, then go for it.

Yes. It's dark - darker than the voids of abandoned craters on the remotest planets of our solar system. And hell, it's bloody and grim. It's a book for the brave. Those who dare to venture beyond ordinary and need their books to be "different" - Beyond Redemption is a rip roaring tale of darkness and violence in a brilliantly imagined psycho-fantasy world where nothing is real. And nothing is safe. Not even your emotions.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

KingMaker: Broken Faith by Toby Clements

A historical fiction based against the backdrop of the War of Roses - a reimagining well done. Grim, cold and brutal - If ever a war-novel was called atmospheric, then this one fits right into that mould.
I got a NetGalley approved copy and Hilary Mantel's faith in Toby Clements' ability was enough to spur me on with the reading. And the writing - Damn, it's good - kept me glued to the happenings as the War of Roses played out in the background to another intense personal drama about two lives unfolding in the shadow of this war. It's raw and heart-rending - the story of Thomas and Katherine; 
A searing narrative that will definitely stay with you after you've closed the book.

However - this being a second book in a series, there were a lot of nuances that I kept missing. Especially with respect to the characterization. The plot itself wasn't a zinger - the story follows the lives of Katherine and Thomas - a couple of star-crossed lovers who were separated at the end of book-one - as they follow the army of King Henry of Lancaster trying to seize back the throne armed with a secret that could change the course of the war - and in the process, discover themselves and each other.

The initial suspense kept me riveted with the narration was unreliable and jumpy. And the descriptions were lurid and heavy – visceral is a good term I suppose – a child-birth in gory detail and a farmstead scuffle that involved shooting and a good body-count. Enough to keep me on the book and the intimate manner in which the POVs unspool didn’t let me go. (Toby uses the war as a good backdrop but it is the excruciating details of a hard grim life led by those affected by war that makes for excellent reading. An experience that’s bloody hard to just flip past or ignore. )

The story starts off in the dilapidated Castle Comcroft - where Katherine - leading a double life as Lady Margaret married to the blind Richard Farkenham gets involved in her Castle-Keep’s wife’s child-birthing. As chance would have it, it goes horribly wrong - and then she stands accused of murdering the mother by a "paid" jury.

In the meanwhile, Thomas returns home to his brother’s farm with little or no memory of where or who he is. But a scuffle with a party of hard war-grizzled veteran soldiers out to loot the farm brings him around to his senses - though still with a woozy memory of what he has been upto in the past. (If like me, you haven't read book one, this one's going to haunt you throughout the book!)
Their lives collide once again in the same priory that featured in their long past – the two had escaped the clutches of the evil lord Giles Riven from here – and in an uncanny reliving of their past – the two unite and escape once again. Under the guises they had used when they were little more than just kids. Katherine posing as Kit – trained in surgical skills and Thomas – an archer. Till here, I was buoyed on by the suspense – to find out how these two disparate plotlines are going to connect. And meet it does – through some quirky twist of fate. ( Or the author’s steadfast plodding plot to ensure this happens!)

After this, the book essentially is a journey. The sort of phlegmatic, inevitable plodding on towards a war that threatens to spill into their lives.  Of a group of reluctant group or camp of soldiers. But by the time the war unfolds – In spite of the name (War of Roses) there is nothing romantic about this one. It’s a damp dark brutal war. Of hapless archers at the front loosening that dark torrential rain of arrows into the sky and waiting to be impaled by similar such as shot by the enemy, the slow crush of luckless infantry stampeding each other and the inevitable rout that follows when the will or courage runs out - towards the climax, a lot of the hooks in the initial parts of the story cease to exist.

For me – this was the undoing of the book. A secret leverage that Thomas and Katherine discover during their escape from the Priory which should probably see the tide of the war turn – gets lost in a bizarre turn of events. Older villains reappear in their lives and both Katherine or Kit and Thomas are as clueless and confused a protagonist that ever was. There is no direction to their lives – being swept away by the tides of war and the will of stronger men – and personally I just couldn’t stomach this. Thomas, an incredibly strong-willed individual – strong as an oxen, a gifted archer and obviously madly in love with Katherine cannot disclose his feelings to her. Kit on the other hand, posing as a boy, becomes famous as a gifted surgeon and is pressed into service by their liege-lord Grey who whisks her around England – on the trial of King Henry to whom they have pledged their allegiance to. I found it hard to believe that nobody in the soldier camps discovered the disguise of a grown woman acting as a boy. This took the wind out of my sails as far as enjoying the book was concerned.
There are not too many side characters who stand out. Grey, Payne the King’s surgeon, Horner the captain or Jack, the boy whose life Thomas spares on early in the book who goes on to become their steadfast friend – are all there to fill up specific roles and no more. Grey was perhaps the most colourful for his tendency to brag, bet and swear a bit. The others were boring additions. King Henry is presented as the most uninspiring leader you could fight for.

What pulled me to the end was this sympathy for the star-crossed lovers and their fates as determined by a useless war. The hard life of the sixteenth century is competently portrayed by Toby – he pulls no punches and the life of a foot soldier – a powerless pawn in a petty war – is drawn up beautifully in the book. Be warned that there are scenes dark and detailed drenched in copious amounts of blood – Mainly in Kit’s experiences as a surgeon – rooting around for an arrow-head buried deep inside one’s body is one riveting scene captured in gory detail by Toby’s powerful writing.

In conclusion, the second part to Toby Clements’ Kingmaker saga – that reunites Katherine and Thomas and continues their intense personal drama set against a bloody and pointless war is a good solid book – but one that lacks a definitive direction just like the war seesawing back and forth and meandering like the hapless commons – stuck in the follower- army camps. Fans of the first book would definitely find this to their liking and those new to the adventures of Kit and Thomas would find it grisly and enthralling enough if they like their stories bloody and brutal.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tin Men by Christopher Golden

I confess I haven’t read Christopher Golden before – But having raced through Tin Men in a day (in one friggin’ DAY people. That’s how addictive the writing is!), he is definitely a tour-de-force to be reckoned with. Science-fiction mixed with global politics and tonnes of blistering non-stop action: On the surface, Tin Men is a book that delivers gobs of all this. But dig a bit and it raises questions galore.

In an unspecified near future world – where economies have collapsed, global warming has led to sea levels rising, food supplies have been hit and flood and drought are the order of the day. The world is in a constant state of chaos – Jihadists and Anarchists destabilizing life, tyrants and dictators around the world vying for control and civilians a mass collateral damage to everything. Into this world, America (Uncle Sam!) sends out RIC (Remote Infantry Corps) as a global peace-keeping force. These robots are controlled by actual soldiers – stationed somewhere deep underground in Germany in a military base known as the Hump – their minds offloaded into the tin-metal monsters and thus controlling every action of the bots. Sealed into canisters and monitored for 8-hour shifts by support and tech staff within the base.

The story focuses on Platoon A. (Assholes) and the Tin-men associated with this platoon stationed in Damascus, Syria – a deeply unsettled country where the anarchists are increasingly getting disillusioned by the role of US in their internal affairs. The US utilize the Tin Men to diffuse hot-spots across the world and maintain order – but the rest of the world hardly see it this way. And the tension starts to simmer and slowly pop – starting off in Damascus where an ex-warlord from Afghanistan leads an army of anarchists armed with bot-killers ( a new-age rockets specifically designed to damage the robots – take out their power core) targeting Platoon A on duty. This is followed by a worldwide electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that fries all sat-comm links, electronic devices all around the world. Throwing everything out of whack. Including the Tin Men – who are now stuck with their minds inside the bot-bodies without a satellite that ideally should have helped with the offload back into their real bodies. A G20 Summit that sees the world leaders converge in Athens further complicate matters – as an international cabal targets the very summit to take out these guys including President Of The United States– thus effectively plunging the world into complete chaos. Tin Men decide to haul ass to Athens – with their priority being to protect their commander-in-chief. From here on, the tension levels ratchet up to dizzying levels – the suspense hot, the action non-stop. The shoot ‘em up never lets up, the bullets and rockets are flying all over the place, shrapnel slices into skin, the tin carapace is charred – and in the middle of all this, the Tin Men soldier on.

The primary focus is on the soldiers of Platoon A – Danny Kelso, private – a man without attachments in this world (A lone shark who continues to swim in the waters of the world unattached) and Kate Wade – a paraplegic who has lost her legs in real life but is the Queen of the Tin Men in her metallic bot-body - are the main POVs. Christopher does a commendable job of getting the reader closer to the human frailties locked deep within those tin canisters - connecting us to the real people behind that unbreakable façade. There are various others – the maverick Mavrides, Hawkins the soldier with his unshakeable ethics, Travaglini the loyal side-kick and many more. Not all of them survive the bullet-riddled kinetic power-ride to the end. Meanwhile giving us the human side of things are Felix Wade, chief economic advisor to the president- also estranged father to Kate – looking for a way to survive the madness that has engulfed the world and make it right with his daughter, one last time. Alexa Day – is a seventeen year old on vacation to Damascus to meet up with her father, American ambassador stationed in Syria when all hell breaks loose. On the other side of the fence, we also get Hanif Khan – the man on a crazed mission to wreck damage and exact personal revenge against the bots for having killed his family. Then there is Aimee Sharp, a tech staff within the military base fighting hard to ensure it doesn’t get infiltrated by inside traitors.

Kate is such a strong protagonist that you cannot help but cheer. Danny plays a man conflicted by his phobia to commit to any relation but finds redemption at the end – in the middle of flying bullets and screeching rockets. Frankly though he is bit of a bore and relies on other stronger characters around him to find his roots in this mad world. Alexa would have been a fantastic character to build out but she is in the side-lines while the Tin Men fight it out to get to Athens. But it’s probably her character-arc that sees a sea-change by the end of the book and fittingly so. But if you ask me to pick a Tin-Man I loved, that would be Hawkins. A man you can trust to have your back always.

The start of the book is a bit slow. Where the author slowly sets things in motion around the military base. But once the Tin Men are up and about – stationed in Damascus, the tension levels in the lonely markets of Syria are what suck you in. The mayhem is never-ending. And Christopher pelts the readers non-stop with grenades, rockets and bullets singing through the ride. All the way from Syria to Athens to Germany. And yes – there is a story behind, that forces questions around the role of US playing the world police-man, will that be in the best interests of the rest of the world? Will it lead to unrest and riots in the longer run?

A scarily plausible future – one that is brought out in full technicolour and painted a rambunctious red drenched in blood and bullets by Christopher Golden – this man knows how to get your pulse racing immersing you in a believable world lived in by robots who are more than humans. A military science-fiction that hits all the right spots and forces you to think. A roaring good tale of shining valour that stands out amidst the screaming rockets, this one should be on the big screen. And soon