Thursday, February 11, 2010

The God Killer

Well, I finished the third Hawk & Fisher novel, and the last in the first omnibus that I have, Swords of Haven. The specific novel, as the post title implies, is The God Killer.

Haven has this thing called the Street of Gods, which is the religious district of the city. It's also a street that exists on a slightly different dimension or something from the rest of the city, and it is one that is saturated with the supernatural. That said, the "gods" of Haven are usually just bizarre creatures or people, touched by the supernatural in some way. In fact, they go out of their way in the novel to call them Beings and contrast them with gods as the term is usually understood; an important theme of this book is: what does it mean to be a god, and what, exactly, is worthy of worship?

Lest you think the books have suddenly turned thoughtful, introspective and philosophical, this is just background, though, for what turns out to be another murder mystery. The gods themselves, or at least some of them, appear to be the victims. Hawk and Fisher are temporarily reassigned to "the God Squad", a unit of the Guard that is charged with keeping the peace on the Street of the Gods.

At this point, the formula more or less takes over, and the book proceeds, somewhat predictably, to its conclusion. And although that sounds negative, it's not meant to be. Formula in writing exists for one reason: because it's proven to be successful. If I had to choose between them, I'd much rather have strong, competent execution instead of innovation that falls flat and doesn't work. Of course, the best works have both, but those are few and far between and I don't begrudge the majority of competent writers for not bringing something new and ingenious to every single work they produce.

I'm also up against a bit of a quandry in this review. Because much of what I've been reviewing lately are volumes in larger series, it becomes difficult to review individual volumes without repeating myself over and over again. For this reason, rather than continue on about the specific attributes of The God Killer, I'd like to point out that I thought, last night as I was finishing the book, that the Hawk & Fisher series is an interesting counterpoint to the Dresden Files series.

Both of them follow the same basic conceit: they're a hybrid of the mystery/detective genres and sword & sorcery type fantasy. Yet, they hybridize the two genres in completely different ways, and serve kind of like bookends on the spectrum of how it could be done.

The Dresden Files are like Raymond Chandler stories in which the main character is a wizard. They take place in the modern world that we know very well, although of course, the wizard is involved in cases that concern supernatural and mystical elements. There's a strong vibe of "secret history" running through these novels; shadowy conspiracies, and other weirdness happening right in front of our faces while we don't know about them. Hawk & Fisher, on the other hand, have more straight-up, regular, action-oriented detectives as the protagonists. Rather than bringing the fantasy to the modern world, this series brings the modern world to a fantasy setting. Haven is an unabashed sword & sorcery setting, yet it's surprisingly modern in many ways too, and the formula for the stories is surprisingly, almost exactly like a standard mystery story. The first novel, in particular, with the suspects all locked in the same house over night, each of whom has some reason for appearing guilty, follows this pattern, but really so far none of the first three novels has deviated too much from it.

The setting has the inclusion of such modern concepts as SWAT teams, democratic elections, the somewhat surprising revelation that Hawk and Fisher self-identify as Christians (albeit, admittedly unorthodox and somewhat lapsed ones) and other concepts that slowly bring the setting into line with a modern one.

Seeing the contrast between the two series as I go through them has been interesting. Next up on my docket is to finish the last few Dresden files books. I've already started Small Favor and at the rate I'm going, I should finish the existing ones right about the time the new one comes out in April. Of course, I'll intersperse those last two volumes, while I'm waiting on the library, probably, with some other of the books I own. I probably will not at this point read the next Hawk & Fisher omnibus. I'm thinking rather that I might read the Skaith books my Leigh Brackett, and then maybe one or two of the Warhammer trilogy omnibus books I have, and maybe throw in either the Kull or Solomon Kane collection too, before getting back to Simon Green.

A couple of small notes about The God Killer before I leave off, though. The Street of the Gods reminded very sharply of Lankhmar's own Street of the Gods, from, of course, Fritz Leiber's sword & sorcery classic stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Not only the name was borrowed, though; the nature of the gods in Lankhmar is not dissimilar to that in Haven. It's also quite similar to the way religion is set up in Freeport, and the existance of the so-called God Squad hints strongly that that is not coincidental: an earlier version of the setting, before the systemless Pirate's Guide, had a group of enforcers that wandered the Temple District, keeping the peace, who were known as the God Squad.

Of course, there are a handful of other organizations that use that term, and as a nice little pun and a rhyme to boot, it could just be coincidental after all. However, I doubt it.

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