Kell's Legend is the first in the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, a new, low fantasy series from author Andy Remic and fledgling publisher Angry Robot. (Well, what with being owned by HarperCollins, this is a fledgling from a feathered nest...)
I've read worse books (but not many), but Kell's Legend is extraordinary in that it becomes so bad, so quickly.
In fact, I can point out the exact moment...
On page fifteen, the protagonist's moppet of a grand-daughter exclaims:
"Grandpa! You don't speak to a lady like that! There's this thing we learned in school, it's called eti... ettick...".
Grandpa Kell ruffles the hair on her cute little head and explains to her that she's seeking the difficult word "etiquette".
Adorable, right? Crazy little kids. You can practically imagine Shirley Temple in the role.
THE GIRL IS SIXTEEN. "Nearly seventeen!", she shouts at the top of that same page.
I don't claim to have any sort of secret knowledge of sixteen year old girls, but I'm pretty sure that they are beyond adorably tripping over words like "etiquette". And, although this isn't the end of the world, this is a pretty good indicator of a terrible book.
It isn't a one-off, either. The candy-corn sweetness of the fish-dumb young girl continues throughout the book. She's alternately boobs-on-stick, menaced by that chapter's particular terror, or a schoolgirl-fetish chattering and blushing inanely. There's better character development in porn, and certainly more entertainment value.
Any lack of character - be it the granddaughter or her shockingly-whiny grandfather - is more than offset by the gore that runs rampant through the pages of Kell's Legend. This is a book that goes past normal violence into MEGAVIOLENCE(tm).
We know we're reading violence like we've never seen before BECAUSE IT TELLS US SO. MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) has hacking, crushing, hammering blades LIKE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) hits THROUGH people (sometimes in ITALICS) and then hits the person behind them. IN THE FACE. MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) has a sentence that is TWENTY-SIX LINES LONG (page 389-390, if you care), because MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) DOES NOT FUCKING CARE ABOUT YOUR PUSSY RULES OF GRAMMAR. MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) HIT YOUR GRAMMAR WITH AN AXE. AND THEN THE PUNCTUATION BEHIND IT.
MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) also comes extra-rapey, which is, might I add, a fairly disturbing trend in D-grade low fantasy. It goes without saying (or should) how shocking/horrible/awful rape is, and when it is bandied about on every page, that's not a fantasy author waxing poetic about "the realism of war", that's just a cheap, nasty thrill for the confused teen audience.
Mind you, sex in the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles is disturbing, full-stop. Take, for example, this romantic interlude:
She towered over him, aggressive, powerful, dominant, totally in charge, her jewelled hands on naked, swaying, circling hips, the smile of the jailer etched on her face as she eyed him like a cat eyes a cornered mouse. Saark's gaze slowly strayed, from the sexual cunt-honey dripping from her quivering vulva, to the large rubies on the rings that circled her fingers. (Page 27, if you're following at home)
This is astounding - the author not only inflicts MEGAVIOLENCE(tm) on the reader's brain and his own thesaurus, but actually manages to catch an innocent metaphor in the crossfire.
Somewhere buried beneath the morons, the ultraviolence and the cunt-honey, there's a plot.
Kell is a retired warrior-of-legend. He's happily puttering around, making stew and conversing with his pet rock of a granddaughter, when the clockwork vampires invade. The name of the series is not misleading - Kell's Legend is packed full of the vaguely-robotic undead ('vachines'). The 'vachines' are out of blood, so they've built themselves a little army, and now they're taking over the world. Unfortunately for them, they've pissed off Kell, who has a magic axe and a bad temper. Also, some idiot companions who all have their dialogue written by a 12 year old gamer in the 'role play' forums.
There's not really that much to worry about from a plot perspective. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, which is invariably resolved by:
- a magic power in Kell's axe that the reader didn't know about
- special knowledge that Kell had that the reader didn't know about
- something even more heavy-handed than the above
Despite the fact that Kell spent the first 150-odd pages completely ignorant of the vachines, we eventually learn that he's a special super-nifty 'vachine hunter' and has actually spent years battling them. Apparently he was just hanging about in the first half of the book to toy with the reader? Or simply feigning ignorance in the hopes of communicating with his granddaughter.
Presumably, this was a book written in a single sitting and then sent straight to the press. Angry Robot's super-efficient marketing department realized they were about to launch without a single MEGAVIOLENT(tm) steampunk/vampire/rape fantasy and handed that brief (presumably scrawled in ketchup) to Andy Remic. Remic had a half hour to spare, 'mean guy' cover art was dredged from the filing cabinet, and KA-POW, a series was born.
In all seriousness, this book is a MEGAVIOLENT(tm) assault on fantasy, and an atrocious first look at a promising new publisher. Kell's Legend punched through bad and hit awful. In the first chapter.