Triumff: Her Majesty’s Hero
Angry Robot, 2009 (UK ebook version, US edition due out sometime in 2010)
Dan Abnett is best known for his tremendous body of work in Black Library’s Warhammer 40k novels and, for met at least, his stellar (pun intended) work (alongside partner-in-crime Andy Lanning) with Marvel Comics’ cosmic heroes. When I saw that last year that Abnett was set to publish a book featuring his own world, a character not burdened by years of backstory and unhindered by a frequently rigid continuity I was excited; very excited. Then disappointed as I found out that Angry Robot was going to take forever and a day to publish in the US, then more disappointed when HarperCollins‘ sale of the imprint added another couple of months onto that forever. Thankfully the awesome folks at Book Depository added ebooks to their repertoire and I snagged Triumff at the dirt cheap price of $3.99. So finally, book in hand (or at least my electronic reading device of choice, a nook), I settled down to read Triumff.
Triumff is a swashbuckling, madcap adventure that reads like a twisted 18th century adventure novel smashed together with something from a 40s pulp magazine. The novel is set in an Elizabethan England that still exists in 2010 (I think were at about Elizabeth XXX) due mostly to Britain’s lack of an industrial revolution and continued reliance on magic (or the arte) for just about everything. Despite the novel bearing a particular character’s name the novel is much more an ensemble piece then I expected featuring a motley cast of heroes and villains; all of which are a heck of a lot of fun to read.
Sir Rupert Triumff is the discoverer of Australia, or Beach, having just returned from that continent with the local prince Uptil in tow. Both men are desperate to protect the indigenous people from persecution from British empirical designs. Of course all of that is somewhat tangential to the novel’s main conflict which involves a dastardly plot to assassinate the Queen. A dastardly plot that early on sees Triumff laid to blame for acts of treason and forced to go undercover to clear his own name. It is a frequently humorous affair that on the one hand reveals a vibrant fascinating world full of odd juxtapositions and, on the other is occasionally grating and borderline wearying.
Abnett is in particular fond of personification, or anthropomorphizing everything. At first it is elicits something of bemused smile as the “Spent clouds, wrung dry, slouched off grumpily” and the “City shook itself dry.” But, by the time the “sun wheezed and blinked down through the rosy smog” that little linguistic twist will have worn a bit thin. Of course that same use of metaphor still manages to frequently produce some rather splendid descriptions such as of the police surgeon De Quincey: “He’d always thought of himself as a sold two-by-four sort of fellow. It came as a rude shock to discover that he was actually as riddled through and through by the woodworm of perturbation as the next mortal.” or hilariously incongruous and out-of-the-blue statements like “There are few things more likely to get you out of bed of a Friday morning than then sound of someone nailing a dead cat to your front door, except, perhaps, the sound of someone nailing a live cat to your front door.” It is a very British sort of humor, a whimsical almost absurd sort of wordplay that reminds me very much of Good Omens (a book I’ve never managed to finish precisely because of its humor). It is precisely the kind of humor in fiction that never quite sits right with me everything just feels a bit more silly then I feel it ought to.
So, by and large, Triumff really isn’t the novel for me. I certainly don’t regret having read it but there were far too many times I wish the novel took itself a bit more seriously than it did. If you’re a Terry Pratchett fan, loved the aforementioned Good Omens, and typically enjoy your fantasy with a tongue quite firmly implanted in cheek then I think this novel might be worth a look. For those, like myself, who have never been much a fan of the comic novel you’re probably best off trying something else.