A Game of Relevance

New Releases: Engines of the Apocalypse by Mike Wild

Engines of the Apocalypse Mike Wild is the William Gibson of fantasy. Not for the ground-breaking thematic content (no offense, Mr. Wild), but for the absolutely brilliant titles. 

The Clockwork King of Orl, Crucible of the Dragon God and, now, Engines of the Apocalypse. Catchy, fun, swashbuckling - these are the sort of goofy, quasi-Howard names that make me want to pick up books. And, in the case of this series, I'm very glad I did.

Engines of the Apocalypse is the third in Wild's particular pillar of the Twilight of Kerberos fantasy series from Abaddon. Wild's protagonist, the "adventure archeologist" Kali Hooper, is a robust specimen. She scampers about in the traditionally-skimpy bodysuit, but also trades blows, quips and mind games with the best of them. Impressively, with the occasional leering look from a villain or adolescent jibe from her adventuring companions, Wild resists the urge to turn her into a sex object. 

Kali Hooper's like Lara Croft, except, you know, if Lara Croft was actually who she was supposed to be, and not just digital masturbation fuel.

Hooper largely blunders around, looting tombs of the Old Races (the now-extinct Elves and Dwarves) (incidentally, any fantasy author that brutally scours his world of Dwarves already gets a triple-A-star rating from me). Invariably she comes into conflict with the Final Faith - the setting's brutally intolerant monotheistic religion (complete with choirboys, inquisitors and funny hats). The Final Faith are always planning something and it always goes wrong. Fortunately, Kali is there to help sort things out.

In-between airships, tunnelling machines, interdimensional leaps and a bit of actual archeology, Kali discovers that the world is headed towards a grim end. Something nasty is coming, and Kali, to her chagrin, is going to be saddled with the task of stopping it. This uber-apocalypse is alluded to in Clockwork King, hinted at in Crucible and dominates Engines of the Apocalypse. There's a mini-apocalypse to deal with (the aforementioned Engines), but whilst skipping between Dwarven sky-tunnelers and Elven lich-kings, Kali's spending most of her time thinking about her next problem instead.

Sadly, this detracts a bit from the in-the-moment, capricious joy that is so prominent in the first two books of the series. The Kali Hooper adventures are a bit goofy, a lot improbable and a world of fun. Having Kali focused on some sort of multi-book meta-plot is actually a bit distracting. She's more fun silly than serious, and it is a little disturbing to think that a series with "wombles" and "farking" is actually building up to a proper end-game.

However, the pre-dominance of the metaplot does make Engines of the Apocalypse a rewarding read for series fans (although probably quite challenging for new-comers). There aren't just references to the main characters of the other Twilight authors - some of those characters actually appear in very substantial roles. And some of the interwoven back stories become even more detailed. In an earlier interview, I joked that Scott Andrews' Children's Crusade was like an Afterblight All-Star Game - but that doesn't hold a candle to the cross-overs in Engines.

Ultimately, Engines of the Apocalypse is a bit of a trade-off. It feels more like a launching platform for the next stage than something that stands alone. Fans of the series will be delighted - fans of the books will be less keen. I, for one, can't wait to see where the series is going, but I also don't want to lose the delightful, enjoyable individuality of each book and character along the way.