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The Man With the Golden Torc*

September 19, 2008

*Now with Spoilers!

Browsing the new releases at Barnes and Noble, I came across Daemons Are Forever, read the book jacket, and thought it sounded like fun. Only trouble was, it’s a sequel, and I’ve never been a fan of reading books out of order. They’re written in order, after all, for a reason. I looked for the first book on the shelves, preferably in paperback, but there was no sign. Having plenty of other reading material, I shrugged and walked away, but kept the author’s name in my trusty iPhone, and when I found myself writing at the Beverly Hills Public Library a few weeks later, I remembered the novel and my determination to read a book a month, and took it home.

Simon Green’s The Man With the Golden Torc is not a particularly subtle book. After Eddie Drood, super special secret agent, is declared a rogue to his extremely powerful family, he sets off on a quest to find out why, and discovers a plethora of distasteful things about the family he’s always been loyal to. I love parody, satire, whatever you want to call it, but the plot lacks depth, and while it’s certainly not short on the action, the scope of the story happens a little too rapidly for my tastes. Two days, to be exact. When you travel with a witch who can open spacial portals, it doesn’t take very long to get anywhere.

There is something very…two-dimensional about the world Eddie Drood exists in, which is strange considering the wonderful details about secret societies and what not. There’s a clear societal hierarchy, but at the same time, it seems to only exist where the character is. Despite the fact that the Drood family supposedly runs the world, there’s no hint at how Eddie’s actions or choices affect anyone or anything outside of London.

The book is fun, but I think because of the character’s name and the fact that the characters are supposedly playing for control of the planet, I expected more. There’s also the small problem of repetition: when the author makes it abundantly clear in the first chapter of the book that the Droods are unstoppable in their living golden armor, I stop caring about the hero. He’s invulnerable. Why should I worry when he’s in danger? A flawless protagonist is boring.

Of course, Eddie’s weakened early in the book by an interdimensional force that manages to pierce his armor, but he remains annoyingly righteous for the entire novel. He never has a moment of self-doubt, or even any second thoughts about bringing his entire family down. And why should he? He defeats everything the family throws at him – which is a lot. Every chapter of the book, and sometimes several times within a single chapter, another bad guy comes at Eddie with some seriously bad mojo. And every time he crushes it with a modicum of effort.

There’s never really any doubt that Eddie will reach the family Hall – I kept reading mostly for the big showdown that never really came. Forget the source of the Drood power, I wanted to see Eddie take on the grandmother who declared him a rogue.

For a book that has such great ideas – a corrupt family of kingmakers, multiple dimensions, endless factions of magical and scientific terrorists – I want something more. Nothing is explored to its full potential. One of my favorite parts features a group called the SceneShifters who alter reality in small but significant ways – using the severed head of a man trapped in an endless dream state. But Eddie destroys them about ten minutes after wandering into their headquarters. Green picks up and drops ideas left and right; just when you’re enjoying a particular concept, he’s already moved onto the next. Will he revisit them in later books? I certainly hope so. That’s part of what redeems this book in my eyes – it’s very clearly meant to start a series. Unfortunately, I think what he crams into one book could actually cover several.

It’s a non-stop adrenaline rush with a lot of good ideas that just aren’t fleshed out. Though I have to admire Green’s approach to romance. Having the secret agent fall for a former enemy is hardly new, but the fact that Eddie and Molly Metcalf, the witch, can tell it’s coming and aren’t really sure how they feel about it is a nice touch.

Quote of the Day:

So I decided to break into the building next door to Saint Baphomet’s, a smaller and even more specialised practice, Dr. Dee & Sons & Sons. They dealt strictly with exorcisms; very strictly, by all accounts. (Their motto: We Get the Hell Out.) Their defences were just as strong but more concerned with keeping things in, than keeping people out, on the perfectly logical grounds that only a madman would want to get in. Most people had to be dragged in, kicking and screaming all the way. But then, I’m not most people. I put away my mobile phone and glanced up and down the street, but as always everyone else was far too caught up in their own important business to spare any interest for a nobody like me. So I just slipped into the deserted narrow alleyway beside Dr. Dee’s and activated my living armour.

Most of the time it lies dormant as a golden circlet around my throat. A torc, in the old language. Invisible to anyone who’s not a member of the Drood family or at the very least a seventh son of a seventh son. (There don’t seem to be many of those around anymore. I blame family planning.) I subvocalised my activating Words, and the living metal in the torc spread out to cover my whole body, embracing me in a moment from head to toe. It’s a warm, refreshing feeling, like pulling on an old familiar coat. As the golden mask covered my head and face, I could see even more clearly, including all the things that are normally hidden from even gifted humans like me. I felt stronger, sharper, more alive, like waking from a pleasant doze into full alertness. I felt like I could take on the whole damned world and make it cry like a baby.

The armour is the secret weapon of the Drood family. It makes our work possible. The armour is given to each of us right after we’re born, bonded forever to our nervous systems and our souls, and while we wear the armour we’re untouchable, protected from every form of attack, scientific or magical. It also makes us incredibly strong, amazingly fast, and utterly undetectable. Most of the time.

The Man With the Golden Torc, Simon R. Green

Link of the Day: Interview with Simon R. Green – predates the ‘Secret Histories’ series. Seems as though Green’s other books might be worth investigating too.

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