Pfft. Who gives two figs about noble and courageous heroes with their shiny armor and white horses and unwavering devotion to all that is pure and noble? (Also, where would you get the two figs? What is this, a farmer’s market?) Here. Take this quick multiple choice quiz which is in no way biased.
Heroes are often:
- Able to make us cry into our pillows because we’re so weak and fallible in comparison
- All of the above
Fortunately, there’s a handy solution to your nightly bouts of pillow-weeping. The anti-hero. That rough-edged character with enough faults in their soul to qualify for earthquake monitoring. Who doesn’t play the good cop/bad cop routine, but prefers the “beat the living snot out of prisoners until they whimper for mercy” technique. Who is lured through life by greed, vanity, and a healthy appetite for the type of “medicines” you have to put in quotation marks. The person who still somehow dredges up enough begrudging morality from the muck of their being to do what’s right, even if doing so includes pit stops for binge-drinking bouts, swearing contests, strip-joint sleepovers, and plenty of other activities they don’t teach you in Sunday School.
The anti-hero. Ah, how we love to hate them, hate to love them, and whatever other emotional mishmash we can whip up. Shall we meet a few and see which one turns out to be the most beloved scoundrel of them all? Oh, let’s do.
THE RUNDOWN: Lugen Crask, a down-on-his luck ex-soldier-turned-vagrant is nearly killed by random thugs, but is taken in and tended to by a kindly priest–at which point Crask repays the favor by robbing the priest blind. But one of the items Crask steals turns out to be a magical artifact that makes him the target of a kingdom-wide manhunt and which could free an ancient, terrible power.
THE CONTRAST: Crask is about as repugnant as they get, and refuses to sprout any sort of redeeming values throughout the entire story. He gets into trouble because of his self-indulgences, wastes his life away, and wouldn’t have come to anything of significance if he hadn’t pinched the wrong priceless artifact. All Crask knows and deals out is pain, both internal and of the fist-and-knuckles variety. The world mirrors him, somewhat, with rampant violence and abuse, though it does provide a refreshing switch from the stereotypical faux-medieval fantasy setting.
THE RUNDOWN: Miriam Black has the unfortunate ability to see how people are going to die when she makes physical contact with them. She’s used this knowledge to survive on the ruins of people’s lives, knowing when and where to be in order to make off with their cash and whatever other items she needs. Then she meets a truck driver, Louis, who is fated to die in thirty days–and who will whisper her name when he does.
THE CONTRAST: Miriam is a highly damaged soul who has been sucker-punched by fate one too many times. The ultimate jaded cynic, she just wants to survive and doesn’t have any illusions about what it takes to do so. On the surface, she’s crude, more than a little crazy, and violent when the situation requires (which is often)–but as much as she fights to avoid it, there are a few people she cares about. Even though her visions have never been wrong, she may not be above trying to cheat death one last time.
THE RUNDOWN: On the backwater, alien planet of Lagarto, ex-KOP Juno Mozambe is trying to salvage what he can out of his life’s wreckage. A dead wife, a dead career, and dead partners sum it up pretty well. Even back-alley thugs won’t give him the time of day until he asks with a laze-blade held to their throats. In an attempt to oust the current corrupt KOP chief, Juno enlists his own team of dirty cops to help him raise the necessary funds and muscle, unleashing a deadly turf war that spills over into interplanetary conspiracies and murder.
THE CONTRAST: Juno’s intentions are good, they really are. His actions? They’re make Tony Stark’s immature and reckless behavior in the Iron Man 2 film look well-balanced. Most of the trouble that crops up in the first half of the story is Juno’s own fault as he stumbles from one scene of mayhem to the next, reveling in brutality and vengeance. He wants to make things right, he really does, but his troubling habit of spitting in everyone’s face (metaphorically and not so) isn’t helping.
So, which of these three would you want to risk bumping into in a dark alley after midnight? Probably none of them, because it’d mean you had wound up on the worst side of town possible. But which to read? KOP Killer is an excellent book, even if you want to give Juno a few whacks with a two-by-four so he’d recognize earlier on how much his misguided actions are making things worse. It is the third in Hammond’s KOP series, though. While you can read it as a standalone and probably figure out much of what came before, to get the full effect, I’d suggest starting with the first one, KOP, and working your way through from there.
Between Blackbirds and Monument, you’ve got two incredibly different books in the context of their worlds, but the main characters come across as oddly similar. Both Crask and Miriam have an in-your-face nastiness about them–though with Crask, it’s more an extension of his warped personality, and with Miriam, it’s more of a defense mechanism to keep people at bay. It gives them both a train-wreck quality where you just can’t look away for fear of missing what happens next while at the same time cringing because you know it’s gonna be bad.
In the end, I will offer Monument as the scarred and battered winner of this round. Partially because I feel Wendig’s strong following will have Blackbirds on most people’s radar already, and partially because Monument is one of those reads that has stuck with me over the years as deserving more attention than it received when it first debuted. It’s not a huge epic…quite the quick read compared to most fantasy novels, actually. And despite the fact that you never really reach the point of sympathizing with Crask in even the slightest way, he leaves an undeniable and lasting impact.
Fortunately, not the sort that requires reconstructive surgery.