It's been about a week or so since I finished the latest in the Drood series and, until now, I just haven't been able to find the words or the heart to write about it. I hesitate to say review because I'm not sure that's what I'm going to be doing in the traditional sense. It might be more accurate to say I'm going to review my history with this author I so love and cherish and then compare that history to my response to this new book.
I have just now finished writing a "review" of Jim Butcher's new book Ghost Story and it is everything that FHEO is not... and it pains me greatly to say that. I've been reading (voraciously and with great love) SRG since 1993 and I started with Blue Moon Rising. Wasn't that just genius?! Wasn't it fun and funny and terrifying and glorious and somehow, in the middle of being an unorthodox fantasy, it also managed to be one of the most utterly "real" books I had ever read. So I stuck a SRG needle in my arm and mainlined every book of his I could get my hands on. Drinking Midnight Wine, Beyond the Blue Moon, Down Among the Dead Men, Swords of Haven (which were separate and shorter books at the time and then became the compilation that is Swords of Haven today) and ultimately The Deathstalker Series which was my first real introduction into "Space Opera". Somewhere in the middle of all that, I read Shadows Fall (a book which I believe to be one of Mr Green's favorites) and Twilight of the Empire (Deathstalker seen from the "other side" to be a brief as possible).
I didn't just read his books, I devoured them. Then, I read them again. After which, or somewhere in the middle of, came the Nightside Series and it was masterful! From beginning to end (and I should say that I believe the end came a number of books earlier then the books themselves would seem to indicate) it was clear that SRG had sorted through his magical box of tools and carefully selected the ones which would be the most valuable in helping him create the series which surpassed much of what he had written before, earned him (and rightly so) throngs of new readers who hung on his every word and more or less became the "bible" for urban fantasy as we know it today. One of the things I have ALWAYS loved best and admired most about his writing is his inclusion of every world he has created into the one he is currently writing about and I suppose it is this element of his writing from which I will draw my observations about the latest book in his new series.
I was, originally, thrilled at the notion that he was going to take on the James Bond legend/legacy and "Simonise" it. How could I not be? Bond is one of the most infamous characters of his time and SRG has EXACTLY the right amount of irreverence and respect necessary to take on almost any character in history and turn him/her inside out and on his/her ear! Let's face it, He's John Cleese meets Mr Steed (dare I throw in just a dash of the heavenly Mrs Peel?) for any reader old enough to know and appreciate those names for who they are and what they mean to a whole generation. So when FHEO started in "Limbo" with Mr "aren't you dead?" Walker I was originally pleased at the notion. Walker had always been somewhat of an enigma albeit a very powerful one, so seeing him on someone else's turf was a pleasant surprise. Until it wasn't pleasant.... it was (and Dear God I hate to use this word in conjunction with ANYTHING SRG does) almost cliche'. One of SRG's greatest strengths has always been his ability to take something so out of the ordinary as to make it seem impossible and then include it in the story as though it were as common as a slice of bread. Seriously; think about the little trolls from Blue Moon Rising, or the unicorn Breeze hiding behind a tree... SRG doesn't just run with Granny Gangs... he's one of the leaders! Which is why this is SO painful for me. Because there is nothing inherently wrong with FHEO. It's just that it's inherently too "right". There's no people-eating houses, no bored, annoyed dragons looking for someone...ANYONE to take an annoying Princess off his hands, no murderous scarecrows terrifying the crap out of anyone who's even in their vicinity (although he does resurrect the Scarecrow Jack legend and "use" it at one point. Hell, it's not even 3:00 am in a part of town you'd have to be crazy to want to go to but you still do anyway. You know what it is? It's a Ford Taurus. Meant to be new, different and just exciting enough while also maintaining perfect serviceability. There's nothing really wrong with it. It's a good value for the cost. It's got a reliable name behind it... but you aren't going to see any Angel Wars through it's windows. The Old Sea Goat won't be found getting drunk in the backseat and it won't end up on any roads where the cabs have no drivers and the occasional person on foot can get eaten by one of those cabs.
FHEO felt kind of "been there, done that" to me. And I REALLY, REALLY didn't want it to. The bad guys are not the stuff that nightmares are made of (think about those red "creatures" all teeth and claws and killing machines). Or the "would you or wouldn't you" tension surrounding the idea of entering (and being changed by) The Madness Maze. Or what about a whole planet full of plants that make the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park look like... well, look like a Theme Park damnit! The Drood universe(s) had the potential to surpass what has gone before if not at least alter it completely and instead it just seems to make use of SRG's marvelous worlds and ideas and recirculate them like the air in the cabin of a plane at 35,000 feet. I'm breathing the air, it's going to keep me alive and I've got a window seat and mostly enough room to be comfortable for my 3-4 hour flight (no transfers to screw everything up) but it's obviously not first class and much of what I'm seeing out of the window is familiar landscape to me. I miss my Simon. I miss the breathless anticipation of turning the page. I miss disappearing into his worlds so completely that my own world ceased to exist for as long as the book lasted.
Take a vacation Simon. Take a year or two off and go out to play in the world. See what wonders there are to find when you don't have to create them. Eat and drink your way around an environment you've never been in. Lie in the sun. Roll around in the snow. Float in a pool on an airbed with an armrest so you have someplace to put a cocktail with an umbrella in it. Ride a rollercoaster. Go to Disneyland and wander around for a few hours (make sure to do the OLD pirate ride and try to sneak some rum or a bottle of ale in with you). Go to a garden store, find a plant that you love which can grow in your climate and take it home to start your own garden with. Go out and play Simon. Then... when you're ready, come back and play with us. We'll still be here. You built our love for your writing over many years. You should be able to take a few off without having to worry that we'll desert you. Those of us who matter won't. Those who do disappear... well, you can just win them back can't you?
I'm going to keep reading about The Droods Simon. But I'm more than willing to wait as long as it takes for the next one to come out. I've gotten far too much joy from your wondrous stories and there is more than enough in your lexicon to keep me busy if you want to just come out and play for awhile. Leave your keyboard behind you... it will still be there when you get back.
And this is REALLY, TRULY just my humble opinion.