Windmill Books, out now
Meet Lester Ferris, unlikely hero – Brevet-Consul keeping the British end up on the island of Mancreu… or at least, that’s who he is by day…
Nick Harkaway’s novel, with its underlying discussion of what makes a hero (and in particular a superhero) or a villain, the power of myth, and the even stronger power of faith and belief, is far more than a piece about the fading days of Empire, and the darker side of the intelligence world – which is certainly what it appears to be at the start. It’s got some of the best use of pop culture I’ve seen in a long time, and one particular line, that involves Pippa Middleton, Benedict Cumberbatch and 50 Shades of Grey, is perhaps my favourite sentence I’ve read this year… made even better by the one that follows it, which shows just how accurately Harkaway understands the comparisons he’s using.
Alongside an effective evocation of a society that resents the Western presence, and is falling into chaos as its careers towards its end, there are some excellently written action sequences (one involving custard!) and a central character who is credible in his fallibility. Lester Ferris knows what he wants, but can’t bring himself to articulate it to the young boy whom he wants to adopt as his son, and tries to be the hero that he both believes the boy wants him to be, and that the situation demands.
There’s also a solid use and understanding of superhero tropes, as we see the inspiration for Tigerman, and the creation of the hero – both in terms of his physicality and his ethos – then follow him in action as what is originally a prank becomes the catalyst for a much darker, and more lethal, battle.
Verdict: A thoroughly entertaining and imaginative tale. 9/10