Sunday, 30 May 2010

Sentinels (vol. 1): When Strikes the Warlord

Sentinels: When Strikes the Warlord is a superhero novel, the first book in a series of six so far (five novels by one author and a collaborative anthology). The primary author is Van Allen Plexico, who has I believe intimated his intent to eventual create a series or twenty or so books - quite an ambition, and in terms of supers-themed fiction, the only rival to that volume of publication within a specific continuity would be the Wild Cards series (a great read in my opinion), yet that was the work of many hands. If he achieves his ambition, Plexico will have put together a mammoth continuity of superhero and villain adventures. I wish him well in trying to attain this goal.

I enjoyed When Strikes the Warlord. It is far-removed from books like the sprawling Wild Cards series, eschewing any sense of real-world verisimilitude in favour of evoking a distinctly comic-book superheroes-flavoured and influenced prose. The novel involves a gathering of heroes; the closest parallel would be the Avengers I feel - we see a disparate bunch (the vaguely Tony Stark-esque Esro Brachis; superhuman amnesiac All-American Ultraa; alien super-robot Vanadium; cocky Swordsman or Hawkeye-type the Cavalier; and newcomer Pulsar), with wildly differing levels of power, come together for a common good. In this the heroes rise to face the threat of the Warlord, a villain cut from the kind of cloth we have seen with characters from the fertile era from the late 1960's to the early 1980's - think along the lines of Kang, Thanos, Darkseid or any of those big-hitter types. The Warlord inevitably raises the spectre of a threat that causes our heroes to have to act to try to stop him. Of course there is more to the novel than this, but this is the main plot-line through the book.

The main characters can recognisably be traced to certain archetypes, yet do not slavishly ape them and the characters have their own quirks and characteristics, so please just take the parallels I draw as a guide only.

The book is fast-paced and fairly straightforward with a largely linear narrative, each chapter taken from from of the different core character viewpoints. There are sub-plots that are developed and then left, presumably for return in later works. The cast is largely superhuman or at least of the costumed adventurer variety, so as a result most of the plot and action centres on superhuman exploits. This is no radical deconstruction of a genre. Instead, I found it to be a fast-paced and quick-read action adventure story, which is what I expected - so no disappointments there. And essentially I enjoyed the book, and could find no real faults based on my expectations. I found it to be no heavyweight fayre, but a satisfying adventure story with a spandex-clad cast. In fact I enjoyed it so much I have invested in the rest of the series and hope to read them all soon.

Fans of superhero prose, and fans of silver age comic books like the Avengers and Justice League of America may find a lot to enjoy in this series, especially the former (not surprising given that the author has been involved in writing about the Avengers in the books Assembled and Assembled 2). I am one of those types, and the Sentinels series looks like it could fill a spot amid my reading of superhero prose. Knowing one of the key events that occurs in the first book, it looks like Van Allen Plexico intends to create a dynamic series where change will happen and characters will come and go, just the kind of thing that has always happened in those classic team comic books, and just the kind of thing I like in an ongoing series.

Cover © Van Allen Plexico and White Rocket Books

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