Shadowhawk reviews Guy Haley's latest, a novel that spans time and delves into the mysteries of the Red Planet.
"One of the most compelling novels of the year, Champion of Mars is a fine example of Guy Haley's quirky and other-worldly narrative style that was the hallmark of his Richards and Klein novels." ~The Founding Fields
After I finished reading the novel a few days ago and had a few moments to think, I finally hit upon the reason why I've liked Guy Haley's works so far, including Champion of Mars: his overall style and the feel of his narrative reminds me very strongly of Ben Counter's various for Black Library. Ben's Grey Knights novels are some of my favourites, as are some of his other works such as the short story Sacrifice and two of his Soul Drinkers novels: Crimson Tears and the more recent Phalanx. Ben's work is extremely quirky and otherworldly, especially when he is writing about the Chaos Powers that lord over the Warp, an alternate dimension in the Warhammer 40,000 universe which is used for interstellar travel, is the source for all psychic powers/sorcery and is the realm of souls. And it is that style that Guy echoes in his own way when he is writing his novels, be it the Richards and Klein novels or Champion of Mars.
So in a way, it is quite fitting and immensely exciting for me personally that Guy is going to be writing stories set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe in the coming years. Surprised? So was I!
Champion of Mars is set in the same alternate near future as Guy's Richards and Klein novels and in a way, it is tangentially both a prequel and sequel to those two novels. Setting it in the same "world" has given Guy the liberty to make use of existing concepts and characters and theories while still maintaining that originality in the novel. New readers to Guy's work need not worry because a knowledge of what happens in the Richards and Klein novels is not necessary to understand Champion of Mars because any references to events therein are kept to a bare minimum. Yet, for those who have read them, there are ample references to put a big grin on your face with all the tantalising hints. For me, it made the novel very complete and I enjoyed comparing my understanding of those references with Guy himself.
The novel is divided into two concurrent narratives: divided between two different eras with different characters. The first half of the narrative is from the perspective of the titular hero thousands of years into the future: the Champion of Mars known as Yoechakanon Val Mora and his love interest Kaibeli. The second half is from the perspective of a scientist less than a century from now: Dr. Holland who is visiting Mars for the first time as part of a colonisation effort and the Androd Cybele he has to work with. This approach to the novel really aided in the immersion process but at times it did come across as a little weird because initially I was under the impression that Yoechakanon's (Yoe) tale is set in Mars' past rather than its future. Other than that though, Guy really pulled it off and we get two really contrasting images of the Red Planet and I have to say that both visions of Mars are equally breathtaking and evocative.
In terms of characterisation, I really liked Yoe and Kaibeli for the simple reason that Guy really went to town with the two of them. Yoe is the disillusioned champion turned gladiator while Kaibeli is his, I hesitate a little to say, digital lover, in so much as that for most of the novel she is a formless entity who can transfer between "systems". Their relationship isn't as it initially sounds because in Mars' future, its inhabitants have mastered the technology of transferring minds from one life to the next, in a sort of The Island way (starring Scarlett Johannson and Ewan McGregor), but infinitely more complex. So don't be turned off by that fact because really, their relationship is one of the best things about the novel. You really have to read the novel to appreciate that properly and that would be my recommendation.
You can find the rest of my review on The Founding Fields at: