Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Reivew: Blue Fall

When Frank Youngsmith begins his investigation on William Beauchamp's life insurance policy, he thinks it'll wind up being another dull claim in the never ending drudgery that is his life.  However, after meeting with a colleague of Beauchamp's and given a couple clues, Youngsmith finds himself uncovering the secrets of a hidden world where the rich and powerful place potentially world-shifting bets on the outcomes of a World Cup-style urban warfare game that calls itself The Tournament.

With a new cycle of the Tournament due to occur at any time, Blue Fall author B.B. Griffith takes time to introduce the reader to a handful of the national teams which are made up of three players per side: a Captain, striker, and sweeper.  Griffith gives the reader a lot of background information on each player, developing the character, and giving the reader a taste of their individual personalities, and hinting at how their team cohesion might play out once the Tournament cranks up. Though it was nice to get a firm grip on who the players where, all the time spent on character development early on in the story made for a pretty slow start.

We meet these players through rapidly shifting points of view which gives the reader the opportunity to get inside a lot of heads and see what that person is really like.  With eight teams in the Tournament, and three players per side, you end up inside a lot of heads.  This led me to believe that many of the teams and players would wind up being more or less unimportant to the story, and sure enough, many of the characters introduced soon wind up as cannon fodder for one of the four teams whose characters got the lion's share of character development.

The Tournament itself is a bit of an enigma.  There's not really any explanation given as to what it is all about or why it occurs, but despite the ambiguity, it is a pretty cool idea.  Like I said before the Tournament is sorta the World Cup of small scale warfare, but with only 8 teams competing, which makes me think maybe the whole thing is still in it's infancy.  Either way, the rules are pretty simple: teams use special guns with non-lethal electric diode bullets to try and gun each other down.  The team with the last man standing wins.  Collateral Damage and injury to innocent bystanders is frowned upon, but not against the rules.  Once the Tournament begins rich and powerful folk (and even world leaders) who are in the know, place extravagant and probably highly illegal bets on the outcomes.

With such high stakes, you'd think the Tournament players would all be special forces dudes, or ninjas, or battlemages but that's not the case. There's actually no explanation given as to why the players are selected for the Tournament.  The players are all carefully selected, but under what criteria, I don't know, but martial prowess, marksmanship, and tactics didn't seem to factor in.  The teams never seemed to employ much of a strategy other than selecting a location for the showdown, then going in and shooting anything that moves. On top of that, everyone's aim is atrocious. There's plenty of gunfire, but very few of the shots ever seem to hit a target. It sorta felt like each match was a game of dodgeball, but with incredibly exciting game of dodgeball.

Sure, the fights didn't employ a lot of tactics, and in the few cases where tactics were employed, they were soon thrown out the window in favor of clusterfuck style action, but damn it if they weren't a ton of fun.  Griffith can write a pretty damn pulse pounding action sequence that will literally have you on the edge of your seat.  The Tournament battles where definitely an area where Griffith's devoted character development paid off.  Because he had spent plenty of time getting the reader inside each character's head, it was pretty hard to figure out what the outcomes to the battles would be.  It seemed as though no character would benefit from "plot-armor" and sure enough, there were a shit-ton of plot twists and surprises.

Though things got off to a slow start, once the tournament got rolling, the story picked up too.  There were quite a few elements here, the special bullets, top secret governmental plots, shadowy string pullers, and a touch of mad science, that gave Blue Fall a bit of a Warren Ellis feel to the story.  This one is not without it's flaws, some which took away from my overall enjoyment, but there's plenty of good stuff to build on.

Grade: C+

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