Hodder, out now (UK), Thomas Dunne Books, out 24 February, 2015 (US)
The twentieth century – a time of war, conflicts, and hatred… and a wide-ranging conspiracy that British agents Fogg and Oblivion must unravel.
Lavie Tidhar’s latest engrossing novel throws you back into the Cold War and the concomitant treachery, deceit and inhumanity. Inevitably comparisons will be made with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but the superheroes on whom Tidhar focuses don’t alter the balance of power in the way that Moore’s characters do: as we learn early on, the wave which created them has affected people of all creeds and colours. The Nazis have their own costumed warriors, as much as the Soviets or the Jews caught in the Ghetto uprising.
That means that this isn’t the sort of alternate history which deviates from a point and creates a whole new timeline. This is very much the twentieth century, with all its highs and lows, as recorded in our history books (and also the novels of John Le Carre), but seen through an unusual filter. Two British agents – Fogg and Oblivion – have been recalled by the Old Man (their boss) to the Bureau (one of Tidhar’s tips of the hat to Adam Hall’s Quiller novels), and made to remember parts of their past which both might prefer not to re-experience. It jumps around the century, with some occasionally surprising cameos and doesn’t pull its punches: the violence may involve superheroes, but it feels real.
Tidhar’s style draws you in so you are forced to read the book carefully, using short sentences or the continental style of speech indication (a dash at the start of a paragraph, but often no distinction between speech and description within that paragraph). It puts you inside the heads of the people whose lives were changed dramatically by the wave, but who after that apparently don’t change, although it’s clear that the effects of time and experience are taking their toll.
The cover asks ‘what makes a hero’? That may be underestimating what Tidhar achieves with this novel – through the mix of characters and situations, he provides an insight into what it takes to be human, and what can happen when we lay that humanity aside. It’s a powerful novel, which will no doubt reward rereading.
Verdict: A strong look at the “human” part of being superhuman. 8/10