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The Violent Century

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

They'd never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they'd guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account... and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?

If you drop the name Lavie Tidhar to anyone who is reading science fiction or fantasy they are bound to say, isn't he the guy that won the 2012 World Fantasy Awards with his book Osama? Yes you are correct. Now I have been unfortunate in not having been able to read it, but when I saw that Hodder and Stoughthon were publishing another book of him, about superheroes, well I was excited to say the least. With Lavie Tidhar's praises in the back of my mind and the promise of another superhero story, The Violent Century could only turn out for the better and well it does that and a whole lot of something extra as well! 

The first thing that really falls to note is the way that The Violent Century is written. It is not your standard type of narration. It is hard to describe, on one level you do follow several person directly but the way Lavie Tidhar narrates his story telling puts the reader in more of an bird's eye view. The way the narration was done did take some getting used to but once you were into the story it was really hard to part with. This fresh take on telling the story had just something magical to it. The second thing that you will undoubtedly notice is the dark and grim setting and this combined with the narration really makes it all come to turn our for the better. In the book there are many flashbacks back into the past, second world war and other events that shaped the twentieth century, these flashbacks are all done a great justice by this narration and the setting that Lavie Tidhar introduces. The Violent Century though it features superheroes, this isn't your standard spider-man or some such type of story but Lavie Tidhar asks questions, sometime even deeper that I had thought, questions like in the synopsis: what makes a hero, what are they exactly? He explores ulterior motives, I hadn't assumed that this book would grip me in this way... just perfect. Even by the dark and often grim setting The Violent Century is beautiful. 

The Violent Century follows mostly the story of Henry Fogg and all that has happened int he second world war. Fogg is being called in by the Old Man to retell his story about certain events that transpired in that period. One of Fogg's friends, Oblivion, is there to get Fogg back to the Retirement Bureau, think of the Retirement Bureau as something in the lines of the HQ like MI6. Immediately after this recalling to the Retirement Bureau the story takes off at a nice steady and utterly addictive pacing. In designing the story of The Violent Century, you can clearly see that Lavie Tidhar has invested a lot of time to leave out no detail at all. The story takes place in both present and past times going as far back as when Fogg was still a kid. I really liked how well-structured and layered Lavie Tidhar made his story. Mostly because in the beginning you are cofnrotned with the current situation, heroes past their prime, but they have gone through a lot and they still have their powers, one of the essences of this story is telling how everything came to pass with a strong emotional current. So Fogg's background is very interesting and he is one of the few British children who has special powers and he is taken to "The Farm" where he and other children that have supernatural powers are trained to control it. As you might tell from the name of Fogg, he can do something with fog. On first this might seem as a bit of a weak power but again Lavie Tidhar shows that he can turn the tables on this as well. Though the start up of the story does explain a lot in terms of Fogg's character, the actual events of why Fogg is being recalled to the Retirement Bureau involve what happened in the second world war. 

In showing what transpired in the second world war Lavie Tidhar takes readers to various geographical locations, from Berlin in Germany to Minsk in Russia and Paris in France. In visiting these various places you get to learn a lot more about everything how it went down, and you also get to meet superheroes from different countries. I liked how these supernatural humans were used during the whole story they are held by most in a state of awe and fear, but they are powerful, in the Nazi regime they are termed the Übermensch. The American heroes are all "show how good and great our country is", and the British heroes are much more modest but just as deadly. Another great thing about showing the superheroes was that the story isn't flooded with them, there are a few that you follow from each basecamp, they also don't use their powers in a tour de force, they show what they can do sporadically, this kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time because you soon learn that most of the superheroes have deadly powers, and now that I think of it, it might be that they themselves might even fear their own power.. just a little bit.. Because when they start unleashing their powers... destruction is imminent. The superheroes from the different countries all carry several virtues and vices of their own, for example the Russian ones are often found in a drunken state. If you look closely at the story you can actually see another story intermingled in the main one, primarily for me the story was about Fogg and the German superhero Schneesturm, this deadly hero is able to control and summon frigid storms. Introducing as a side track in this main story is a secondary love story centering around Fogg. Exploring this side track really helped in giving yet another plus for a well rounded story as you not only get the full action low down but you also see a much more sensitive side of many different characters and helps to raise many more questions in the lines of What makes a hero?

Lavie Tidhar proves with The Violent Century that he is definitely an author to add to your favorites list. The Violent Century is much, much more than you standard superhero face-off book. Even though the story is written as a novel, it reads away like a comic and Lavie Tidhar has a interesting and lively narration (it did took some getting used to but once you are in to the style, you wouldn't wish it to be any other) that places you directly into the story with a nice bird eye perspective, this gives you as a reader the full experience of this amazing book. But The Violent Century isn't only about action and as you get deeper and deeper into the story and read about what happened in the beginning of Fogg's life and all throughout his missions you see a strong emotional undercurrent that steadily drives the story further. The ending for me, the reasoning of the Old Man only added to the emotional side of the story. The Violent Century is one of those books that lives up to you expectations and goes way beyond it, make sure you get reading it asap, it won't let you down.



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