Shield and Crocus by Michael R Underwood

Rating 8.5/10
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading comics.

Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood is a stand-alone (perhaps series?) fantasy novel that I think is most easily described as Watchmen meets Game of Thrones. It is a story about a city, the Tyrants who vie for control of different sections, the various races of people who are oppressed, tortured and experimented on, and the underground movement of superheroes / terrorists who are prepared to risk people and the city in the pursuit of freedom. It is one of the better books I have read this year.

The story follows the First Sentinel, an aged warrior very similar to the Batman we see in Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and his quest to free the people from Audec-Hal from the oppressive rule of the Tyrants. He is the leader of the Shields, a team of super-powered heroes pulled from the various races that inhabit the city, and together they try to erode the power of the Tyrants through guerrilla warfare and striking at targets of opportunity. When the Tyrants call for a ceasefire to hold a meeting that will decide the future of Audec-Hal, the First Sentinel senses an opportunity to rid the city of the Tyrants in one fell swoop. The First Sentinel has been fighting this war for a long time, he is ready for it to be over, and he is willing to let the city pay too a high cost just so he can have a shot at ending it for good.

The learning curve here is pretty steep, and story is a little predictable to balance that out, but I think in the end the payoff is worth it. Underwood thrusts you into an unfamiliar city made out of the carcass of a fallen giant, has populated with weird and wonderful races and automatons, and has established clear and defined goals for our heroes to meet. It may take you a few chapters to really get into the book, but once you read those first four chapters I think the hooks will be well and truly embedded and you will stay with this book all the way to the end. Normally superhero stories have the benefit of visual representations to punctuate key moments, but Underwood has managed to paint a fantastic picture with his words, and I was easily able to envisage everything that was going on. Shield and Crocus is a well written book.

While the First Sentinel is the main character, Underwood gives us opportunities to get to know the rest of the team. The problem with an ensemble cast is similar to those ensemble movies, you can’t dedicate enough time to developing everyone's personal story, but Underwood does an admirable job, especially considering we have never seen any of these characters before in any story. The only thing that didn't really connect with me was the portrayal of the tyrants - they all had unique aspects and definitions but they came across as simply "boss fights" for our characters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I think it is easily balanced by the awesomeness of the "boss fights" that takes place.

A few authors in recent times have attempted to tell a superhero story with prose rather than graphics, with mixed levels of success. In my opinion, the story Underwood has crafted is by far the best and most balanced superhero novel I have read, but I couldn’t help but feel that this story would have so much more impact as a graphic novel or with a few graphic illustrations to punctuate key moments of chapters. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading comics, enjoys watching comic book movies, or enjoys the new weird type of fantasy written by the likes of Moorcock and Mieville.

Shield and Crocus by Michael R Underwood
Print Length: 418 pages
Publisher: 47North (10 Jun 2014)

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Shield and Crocus reader reviews

from United States

8-stars

At first glance at the book cover, Shield and Crocus gave me more of an impression of a science fiction action movie poster than a book cover of a novel that I would want to sit and enjoy. However, after getting past the cover, I was so glad that I picked this book up. The narrative follows the storyline of the members of the Shield of Audec-Hal, specifically those of the First Sentinel, Aegis, and Sapphire. We do get a glimpse into a hand-full of other characters throughout the novel, but they only give us a small glimpse into the world outside the working of the Shields. The Shields of Audec-Hal are a group of rebels who have gathered together to fight the five tyrants and their horrifying rule over the city. These five tyrants have spent their careers making the lives of the citizens miserable, targeting each other and not caring what civilians are killed in the crossfire. On top of all this war, the citizens live in fear of “Spark-storms”; wild magical storms that have the power to turn a schoolhouse into a carnivorous beast to turning the cobblestone streets into rivers of molten lava. If somebody is struck by these “Spark-storms”, it bestows them with powerful and often terrifying new abilities, marking them as the outcast known as “sparked”. When a summit of the five tyrants is called, the Shields know that if they do not strike to end all of this soon, they could lose everything – including their lives. When I first started reading this book, I had a little bit of trouble following all of the different races and names. I suffer from dyslexia, and found myself pausing to figure out the actual names of the characters so that I could follow the story. These pauses pulled me way out of the world of the novel, and make it very difficult to really understand anything that is going on at all. I ended up purchasing the audiobook and used it to accompany my reading of the hard text that I had purchased. With the assistance of the audiobook I really fell in love with this original story. Underwood creates a narrative where the chapters switch from character to character, almost similar to that of George RR Martin’s in A Song of Ice and Fire. Many reviewers have referred to this book as “Watchmen meets Game of Thrones”, but I found it to be more along the lines of Game of Thrones meets X-Men. I say this because of the relationship society and the tyrants have with those who become “sparked”. Regardless, this novel takes a new look at the classic villains versus heroes story with his stunning new world. Science and magic seem to work hand in hand with one another, opening up a new world of devices and magical relics that make this story truly original. Underwood does a wonderful job keeping the reader on the edge of their seats with this action packed novel. I look forward to reading more works by him in the future.

8.3/10 from 2 reviews

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