Fiefdom: A Kingdom Novel - Dan Abnett, Nik Vincent

(I got an ARC through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

My review comes a little late, I should've read this novel in June or July, and posted back then. Ah, well...

Mixed opinions on this one. It's set in the world of the comics Kingdom, but decades after their events. I never read the comics, so I probably missed a few interesting things, or didn't "get" everything right; I honestly can't tell. On the other hand, since I approached the novel with an unknowing eye, at least I can tell what would work for new readers, and what wouldn't. Or so I hope.

The setting is definitely a post-apocalyptic one. At some point, "Them" (giant insects of sorts—possibly alien?) came to Earth; to hunt them down, the humans engineered dog-human hybrids, the Aux, powerful fighters meant to obey the voice of their "Masters". One of them in particular, Gene the Hackman, became quite the legend, to the point that every tale told by the Aux today, gathered in packs in the old Berlin underground stations and tunnels, start with a recap of what he did. The weather changed (or was changed), leading to a "Time of Ice" that made Earth too cold for the insects, and drove survivors underground. I think this is the gist of the background story behind this world, and if it indeed is, then the book is clearly understandable from a new reader's point of view.

I wrote "mixed opinions" earlier on, though, because Kingdom also has a deterrent potential, depending on what you're looking for in it. So I'm going to proceed in a "what I liked/disliked" fashion, and let readers decide if this would be their cup of tea or not.

What I liked:

* The Aux live according to a pack mentality loosely based on dogs'. Not wolves, for a change, but dogs. Their mythology, their beliefs, have evolved along such lines. They display attitudes and personalities of fierce warriors, with both male and female being sent to "scrap" (kill the insects), but deep inside, there's still talk of "Masters", of "keeping Them off the lawn" (in a way, that was almost cute). It's indeed as if they were dogs given a human voice to speak of what their owner expected of them, and they don't take kindly to those who go "feral", start forgetting their duties.

* The names: every Aux has a name reminiscent of a famous writer/poet, sometimes being exactly the same, sometimes not, but always with a hint of what they stand for: Ezra Pound, Evelyn War, Makewar Thackeray, and so on. This brought a smile to my face more than once, although I'd have liked to know why they had such names.

* The Berlin setting. I like underground stations in general, but I don't know Berlin, so I was both in familiar territory and in one a little different from the usual Anglo-Saxon cities I read about in novels. The third person narrators are Aux, and they see everything through their own eyes, obviously. I liked that little game of reading a description and piecing things up to determine what was its original function. The station plans, for instance. Or the "voice of the Master" that is actually an old recording of which tunnel each train had to run in.

* The Aux mythology, their tales of Gene the Hackman who walked the earth to kill "Them":

"Gene the Hackman, top dog, him done the great Walk Around. Not for him the darkness, not for him the cold, not for him the Time of Ice. Gene the Hackman, him got whet. Gene the Hackman, him got whet and walked the Earth and him killed Them."

He's a role model for them all, but the tale-teller, Edward Leer, had a way to use his Gene stories to weave new tales, and adapt them to the pack's current predicament.

* The Aux speech patterns. They talk in mangled, broken English that fits well with their origins: simple words (just like the ones you'd use to order dogs around), a lot of playing on words (get wet/get whet—although that one doesn't work with the "hw-" feature in my own accent), yet that also gave every dialogue a strange musical lilt. It enhanced the oral quality of their culture, as well as their existence as warriors bred for one thing only, and now living as if the threat was still here, while slowly losing their ways. (Once-revered Hearers, those who received orders from the Masters, aren now despised, just like those who believe in their words.)

What I disliked:

* I never got a clear idea of what the Aux looked like. At first I imagined them 100% human-looking, only with a pack mentality, but this seemed a little too... clean? to my liking. They have hands and legs (they wear gloves, trousers, can use crowssbows...) so they don't have paws, but are their faces hybrid of dog and human, or not? I could never tell.

* Things got repetitive after a while, with the pack moving around looking for alliances and getting into various fights. The story ran in circles, much like them, which in terms of matching patterns did fit, but wasn't so interesting in terms of plot.

* This included the broken English, a make-it-or-break-it deal in my opinion. It was pleasant to my "mental ears" in the beginning, but in the end, I wished the characters sometimes used different expressions for a change, not always "time to get whet" or "there's strength in numbers".

* I still don't know if it's a standalone stories, or the beginning of a series. The story took its sweet time to get to the ending. Then, once said ending was here, I thought it was too abrupt, and both too open and too closed at the same time: we can easily imagine what will come next, and it seems like there aren't that many possibilities left for the Aux.

* I would've enjoyed more details about the world. The Aux never talk about packs outside Berlin, in other cities. We don't know if the Masters are still here, nor how the Hearers managed to listen to them (was it some different chemistry in their brains?). What is this "Auxtralia" mentioned once? (It sounds like Australia, but that would be way too far considering the Berlin setting.) Why did they have writers' names, was it some tradition initiated by the Masters? I guess someone who's read the comic books will have some of those answers, but I didn't, and I was a little frustrated.

Overall, though I kind of enjoyed this book, I wasn't awed. I liked its atmosphere, but not so much its plot.