Monday, November 2, 2009

Book Review: Bleak History by John Shirley

Bleak History

Bleak History’s story is in the not too far off future New York. John Shirley has created a world in Bleak History is not too different from our own, with the exception that the spirit world (The Hidden) has become a force that manifests itself through various “gifted individuals”, giving them special abilities. One such individual is Gabriel Bleak, an ex-Army Ranger, now turned bounty hunter. Ever since leaving the Army Gabe has been under the watchful eye of a shadowy government agency that tries to use this hidden world and its gifted people in its anti-terrorism agenda. They want Gabe Bleak and will do just about anything to get him. The main portion of the plot in Bleak History is about the pursuit of our hero. The chase goes on and the story unravels in some expected and unexpected ways.

Gabe’s powers make for some great action, rooftop leaping, gun play, and explosions, then mix that in with all kinds of help from the denizens of The Hidden. John Shirley knows how to draw an image in your head, which is one of the many reasons why this book is addicting. The pacing of the story is perfect for a Hollywood film, which I’m quite sure this book is destined to be (in fact according Shirley’s website the film rights have already been arranged). Having said that, I must point out that the pacing feels a little off in book form. The story flows so smoothly through 90% of the book and then ends rather suddenly, but it’s not so bad that it subtracts from my overall feelings toward the book. Basically I’m telling Mr. Shirley I wanted his book to be about half again longer, I enjoyed it that much.
The characters are well developed and Shirley does an excellent job in portraying them in a way that you understand their motivations. He portrays Gabe’s inner struggle with his conscious quite well. It’s not just Gabe that has depth, but all the characters in Bleak History have more stories to tell. I hope they get that chance in an ongoing series.

In conclusion I will say that this Urban Fantasy delivers on many levels. I want more books set in this world with these characters. I want to see a movie made from this book. I hope Mr. Shirley realizes he has something special here, with loads of promise. I see the same elements in Bleak History that I seen in Jim Butcher’s Storm Front. I can see Gabriel Bleak becoming as iconic a character as Harry Dresden. I highly recommend this book to any Urban Fantasy fan who enjoys a straight forward plot, interesting characters, and a fast pace.

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