on 19 August 2014
7 Wonders is an interesting book with great moments, but I think it ends up tripping itself over.
I enjoy the author's books and I will be eternally grateful as he was my gateway to Angry Robot and endless hours of fun, thrills and joy. However, I think that my main gripe with 7 Wonders is that I felt it was actually 3 books that got all shoved into one single tome/adventure.
So we are introduced to San Ventura, a city with Superheroes and a Super Villain. On the first pages we are introduced to a new Super Hero and that throws a spanner in everyone's work. Here is where I felt the split for the (I assume) first story came in and we start getting a background of the city, the Heroes v Villains conflict and so on.
Then we focus on the current plans of the Super Villain and the progress of the new Hero. All culminating in an amazingly cinematic confrontation. And if that wasn't enough, then we jump to an entire World spanning threat and the plans to save it. This last bit, which I think would/should've been book 3, then falls into a Superhero Check-list that it got to the point I felt it was never ending, OK so I got the point, there were loads of super heroes. But to just list them and only say the qualities of a few... or just listing so many, defeated the point and as you can see it wound me up.
I am giving it a 3 because it has got some fantastic stuff, but it is definitely (personally) not a 4 as I felt we would have all benefited if each section had been given its own book, giving us full detail, rather than cramming all the back story.
It has great potential, but I felt it was overambitious and that prevented it from being great.
on 24 April 2015
Seven Wonders perfectly captures the inconstant nature of human (or indeed alien) decision. We like to think that we would use superpowers for good, or that some might use them for evil, but the truth is those decisions would exist only momentarily, until we made our next good/evil choice. There are no heroes or villains, just a constant process of decisions and change.
There's a major change of focus at the middle of the book. Properties and characters from the first half of the book return and carry on through to the end, but the story is so different from that point that it almost feels like two separate books, something reinforced by a lack of strong ongoing character development.
It's apparent in this book that Adam Christopher wanted to pay homage to a few tropes from comics and cinema, but occasionally I felt this bordered on cliche. The old idioms may be the most effective, but you can still make up your own, and not rely so heavily on speeding bullets.
Thematically the book is a lot like a DC Comics story arc, with strong archetypal characters, and just like DC, nothing seems to go right, and ultimately solutions present themselves just a bit too conveniently, though not before everyone comes together for a massive roll call. I'm a sucker for a roll call.
Occasionally I felt like the story being told was not the one I wanted to hear, but it was still pretty damn good.
on 17 September 2012
Author: Adam Christopher
Publisher: Angry Robot books:
Release date: 6 Sept 2012
Page Count: 416pp
Reviewer: Adrian Middleton
In the wake of his debut novel, Empire State, Adam Christopher steps sideways from the noir city to the shining superhero city of San Ventura to bring us a trip into the four colour world of the Seven Wonders, the last great superhero team, protecting the world and, in particular, the West Coast of America, from the last supervillain team up, The black-clad Cowl and his girl-wonder sidekick, Blackbird.
The pulp style of the novel gets the story off to a cracking start, with a touch that made me believe the book started life as a comic script rather than a novel. Each paragraph feels as if it's describing an individual comic-book panel which, while giving the feel of authenticity to the piece, made me feel bereft of the depth that the prose of a novel, rather than a graphic novel, can bring.
More influenced by the superhero universes of DC and Wildstorm comics - particularly Batman, Superman and The Authority - Christopher's world is filled with shades of grey, enthusiastically raising questions about the morality of its heroes and villains, making the reader question who are the real heroes and villains throughout the story.
The story follows the lives of the Cowl, San Ventura's greatest billionnaire-supervillain, as his powers are mysteriously on the wane, the city's newest hero, Tony Prosdocimi, and Blackbird, whose own motivations drive the story forward at a speed more like that of a cancelled soap opera than a speeding bullet.
Ultimately is the soap element - the relationships between the characters and their interactions with the San Ventura police and the Seven Wonders themselves - which drives the story forward. Unfortunately, the promised depth isn't forthcoming, and the story dwells more on set-pieces like the protagonist's fight to come to terms first with the emergence of his superman-like powers (clearly inspired by Larry Niven's seminal essay 'Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex') and on the TV-style police procedural investigation by Sam Millar and Joe Milano, cops from a SuperCrime department responsible for dealing with the city's super-powered community on zero budget. These are nice vignettes, but they don't make up for weak characters who go through the motions with tenuous motives.
The book has some great moments, but they pass quickly, stopping short of what could have been comic-book gold had they been explored in the four-colour medium. Take an early scene where the Cowl touches upon the question: who is acting in the best interests of the city? Aloof heroes with no connection to the people, or career criminals who know every corner of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, protecting their territory while perpetrating crimes in other parts of the city. Unfortunately, when moments like this appear, they fade quickly and are not returned to, making potentially great thematic story elements into little more than passing thoughts.
Ultimately this brings me to the conclusion that as pulp prose, Seven Wonders should have been a comic book, and not a novel. Yes, it is light, action paced and entertaining, with lots of twists and turns as the story progresses, but ultimately without pictures to add depth to some fairly weak characterisation, the book leaves me just a little too under-whelmed.
Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling metropolis of San Ventura - a city utterly gripped by fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.
When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team, the Seven Wonders, aren't anything like as grateful as he assumed they would be...
I am, and always will be, a comic book geek at heart. Before I developed a passion for reading novels I grew up with 2000AD, Marvel and DC. I still try to read comics whenever I can but now a lot of my time is taken up by books and reviewing. The idea of reading something that captures the best elements of the comic book medium and translates them successfully certainly intrigues.
San Ventura is glorious amalgam of every other comic book city that you've ever read. With liberal doses of Gotham, Metropolis and Star City, it serves as the perfect backdrop for all the action. From a comic book fan's standpoint, there can't be anything better than huge epic battles where heroes and villains duke it out, trashing buildings and destroying scenery in the process. Add in some cosmic shenanigans of an apocalyptic nature and you're on to a winner.
Seven Wonders isn't all about the action though. Christopher also takes time to dissect the building blocks of superhero/supervillain mythology. What does it take to be a hero, or indeed a villain? Can one exist without the other? Given the opportunity what would an average person do if they were suddenly extraordinary? In my experience a lot of comic book stories tend to put the hero, and the villain for that matter, on a bit of a pedestal. They are to be idolized and worshiped. I'm glad that the author doesn't stick with that traditional view, instead the characters and their flaws are revealed, warts and all.
The Cowl is undoubtedly the most complex character in the novel. You get to learn his motivations and the relationship between his sidekick, Blackbird, is a highlight. I don't want to give anything away story-wise, but the eagle eyed amongst you are bound to spot the reverential nods to various other famous heroes as you learn more and more of The Cowl's history. There are some great revelations as the plot unfolds and, in particular, this character's journey is Superhero/Supervillain deconstruction 101.
My only minor gripe, and it is minor, is that it would have been nice if some of the other characters got a bit more time to shine. I particularly like the speedster Linear, and was a little disappointed that I didn't get to learn as much about him as I would have liked. The Cowl and his alter-ego are fully explored but this is at the detriment of some of the other cast. I suppose this may just be wishful thinking on my part. There is a page at one point which lists a whole host of superhero names and, I'll be honest, I'd happily read about each and every one.
It's obvious that this author is a huge comic book fan and the love he has for his subject shines through on every page. Put it this way, if Christopher's first novel, Empire State, is a knowing tip of the hat to all things golden age (it so is - Ed.) then Seven Wonders celebrates the modern comic book with equal aplomb.
Seven Wonders is an utterly absorbing read but there is part of me that would love to see it reborn as a graphic novel, or an animated series. It would be great to see an artist's interpretation of Christopher's characters. The story is so good and the characters so well observed that they scream out for some sort of visual development.
I remember being blown away the first time I read, the now classic comic book, Marshall Law by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill. They took what were well-established conventions at the time and turned them all squarely on their head. Christopher has achieved the same nigh on impossible task here with Seven Wonders, and even manages to make it look easy. He has subtly subverted the superhero genre by removing black and white, the good guys and the bad guys, and leaving us with the far more interesting, morally ambigious, shades of grey. More please!
on 9 October 2012
Adam Christopher stormed onto the scene with the wonderful "Empire State" and has consolidated his position as a purveyor of prose comics (sort of the opposite of "graphic novel") with this tale of shifting alliances and superheroics in the semi-fictitious San Ventura, California. The reader is kept guessing by a series of twists and surprises as the book rockets along, opening with new kid on the block Tony Prodoscimi held hostage in a bank and proceeding via betrayals, super punch-ups and a couple of superb space-bound set pieces to a satisfying conclusion. It's another book which begs a sequel, as there is more to unravel in the motivation of the Seven Wonders and villainous sidekick-turned-lead villain Blackbird. How about it, Adam?
on 11 November 2012
I was excited when I found this book and *really* enjoyed reading parts of it. The set-piece fight scene (I'm trying to avoid spoilers) really got my heart rate up and I thought some of the twists were utter genius, I just didnt see them coming. But then... I felt it lost it's way and almost changed genres. Ultimately, I enjoyed it and I may even read it again. But I'm mainly a little annoyed because it came so close to being great.
on 19 September 2012
Adam Christopher showed his love of all things noir with his debut book Empire State, now he's turned his attention to comics and the tale of superheroes and villains. Set in the imaginary city of San Ventura on the golden coast of California the story revolves around the resident super team and their attempts - or not - to bring down the worlds only remaining supervillain, The Cowl. In this world all other superheroes are either retired, media celebrities or dead, and one of the questions raised is if there are no more villains, do we really need heroes?
Reading like a comic book without the pictures the book hits the ground running with a blistering opening that doesn't save on the violence. This is no childrens superhero story, there is death, there is destruction, and from early on you are left wondering who the real heroes are. Adam has used the format that is popular with fantasy fiction at the moment of painting his primary characters a nice shade of grey. There are a lot of agendas, some hidden, some obvious; but you need to read right to the end to get to the bottom of what is really going on in San Ventura.
Where Empire State was a fairly contained story - set as it was in a small bubble of reality - Seven Wonders has a broader scope, world encompassing and beyond scope at that. There are nods to famous heroes, trimmed down phrases, actions, powers, that are overly familiar but have a distinctive bent so as they are new and fresh. Also you are getting more than just the story of Tony Prosdocimi and his quest to rid the city of The Cowl, that is resolved fairly early on, but as one story ends so another starts, building upon the bones of the first. All linked together to make an overall arc with an endgame that rivals the New York smackdown in The Avengers film.
Adam's writing has improved from Empire State, it seems less hesitant, less repetitive. The characters are colourful and real, with histories that are briefly touched upon. If I was to have any criticism's it would be the main "threat" was a little too borglike. What did I like the most? The opening, every superhero story should start with a Meanwhile back at..., and the rollcall of superheroes near the end - for me - possibly hints at future stories set in the same world.
As a second book Seven Wonders ticks all the right boxes, it is a thrilling rollercoaster ride where the reader feels the wind in their hair, and their cape flapping behind them.
First off, I write this as a long time reader of SF and Fantasy novels, and of super-hero comics/graphic novels/whatever, and comics in general and review all of them regularly, often here on Amazon. Turning my head from the screen I can look at my bookshelves filled with dozens of super-hero graphic novels. Okay, credentials established, herewith the point of this review. Super-heroes don't work as prose fiction. Qualification: I'm talking about the costumed super-heroes who live in a common universe of the like of those established by DC and Marvel. You can have what are effectively non-costumed super-heroes disguised as, say magic users and it will work -see my recent review of Hard Magic- but mainstream costumed super-heroics don't.
They can, just about and albeit watered down, work on TV (Smallville and the recent Arrow), and work very well on film but even there it helps a lot if the director is Joss Whedon. But where they work perfectly is the place that they came from -comics. In comics the stylised dynamic art creates a convincing hyper-reality that transcends the essential silliness of the concept. Comics were made for super-heroes and it's their natural home.
But prose without pictures isn't. I've read a number of novels which attempt to transcribe costumed super-heroes from their home into another format and, with one glorious exception, they don't work. And Seven Wonders isn't the exception.
I can't go into too much detail because I'm assuming a few of you will be buying this book so I'll have to comment in more general terms as I don't want to write any form of spoilers. In the Californian city of San Ventura lives the world's last super-villain -The Cowl- and his nemeses, the superhero team known as Seven Wonders -probably because the wonder is why they can never catch him. The our hero suddenly discovers he's developing super-powers and battles the Cowl who attempts to rob a bank where he's cuing up for cash and defeats him. What follows is a multi-viewpoint story in which, if you can't guess most of the surprises, twists and turns, you haven't been reading comics (or any fiction) lately.
And what also follows is why the book doesn't work. The author hasn't attempted to create a prose form which describes super-hero battles, and other super-hero tropes, that actually works. "Avengers assemble!" works fine as a battle cry in a comic in big dynamic lettering and shouted out by Captain America but is just silly in text- "Seven Wonders, unite!" when spoken by a character we know little about. The descriptions of super-hero fights are ploddingly mundane without any accompanying images. But to be honest, the rest of the prose is competent at best and the real story, when we finally get to it, just isn't very interesting.
In short:it just doesn't work.
To be fair there are three pages of ringing endorsements from numerous people whose names I recognise and all of them are in the comics industry, most of them being comics writers, so I suppose they would say that, wouldn't they?
And the one glorious exception to super-heroes in prose -it's the Wild Cards series, a shared world created by George R R Martin (Games of Thrones) a few years ago with the help of many other talented writers. Try and get the original series but avoid a more recent attempt to revive it.
on 24 July 2014
Recommended by a friend that Works for Angry Robot. Loved the story, a different take on superheroes that kept me interested enough to read in one sitting.
on 4 October 2012
Note: this review is based on the limited edition hardback of Seven Wonders.
Seven Wonders is a fun, and in spite of its length, rapid read that demonstrates a seemingly-boundless enthusiasm for the world of the superhero.
From a fairly direct premise - average Joe, or Tony in this case, wakes up with superpowers and disturbs the balance of the world's last remaining super-stalemate - the story winds itself tighter and tighter, drawing more and more characters into the conflict and putting pressure on the cracks between those caught right in the centre. With the final turns of the screw, the entire story erupts into a conflict that dwarfs the initial scope of the story, and for a moment it feels as though the enormous momentum that Christopher has unleashed is too much to be reined in.
I'm glad to say he pulls it off, and wraps the novel up with a deft and balanced hand.
This is excellent writing, full of charm, wit, and - best of all - adventure.