Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood
Reading this book took me a long time. I’d bought it mostly because the author frequents /r/fantasy and it was on a steep discount at the time. I had a hard time getting into the book at all. It seems like a great idea: a superhero team fighting a losing battle against the tyrants to save their city, with a plethora of different races in a steampunk universe with sentient machines and grapple hooks.
While the premise of these few fighting against the whole might of the tyrants with their own strength and finesse seems promising, the book doesn’t manage to sell its characters. Frankly, I didn’t quite care what happened to them. They were one-dimensional and most lacked something distinct. They have their special powers and then only act as a fighting force basically doing this or that. We never really get personal with them, never know their feelings and wants. They simply fight. The few times we learn more about some of them, it seems slapped on.
The book is, in essence, a big action festival. Action is everywhere. The heroes fight against this tyrant for that reason, then against another for something else. Even the ending is just fighting. All the while we follow a protagonist that worries about everything, most of all the fate of his city when he’s gone. A protagonist that has an incredible power, but doesn’t want to use it. Yes, it’s dangerous and can even hurt his friends and comrades, but he’d rather let thousands upon thousands (that’s not really exaggerated) of people die instead of making use of his powers to actually fight the tyrants instead of only sabotaging them in small things.
For me, the book lacked depths and ingenuity especially in regard to how these people use their powers. They’ve someone who can form stone at will, and this power could have a much bigger impact than is depicted in the book. Their fight seems amateurish and ineffective, barely needles in the sides of the tyrants. That’s especially strange because some of our heroes are already fighting for decades and should have already seen that their strategy doesn’t work.
Doing more dangerous but effective strikes against the tyrants seems easily possible. The heroes are simply overpowered for no other apparent reason that they are the heroes. Yes, they have some special abilities, but so have the troops of the tyrants. Reading the fights feels like watching an action game where you run around and then dozens upon dozens of enemies come at you in waves and you can mow them down with a few hits with only some special enemies and bosses mixed in for a change.
The prose doesn’t manage to drag this book to higher reaches, but seems utilitarian and at times even bland.
Concluding: It’s a book you buy if you want to have something with a lot of action. Otherwise, you’re better off looking for something else. Many people seem to enjoy it, so take my review with a grain of salt, but for me it was a hard book to read and finished. I found next to none incentive to take the book up again whenever I stopped reading for the moment and often let it lie dormant for a week.