June 2, 2014

Book Review - Crimson Son by Russ Linton (debuts June 14, 2014)

Today I'm going to post an in-depth review of a book that's coming out in June (the 14th to be exact), and I can't be more excited to share my thoughts. I literally just finished the book about fifteen minutes ago.

***Warning, I use some curse words in this review to follow the flavor of the voice of Crimson Son's protagonist***

Crimson Son

This is an awesome cover, behold!
Crimson Son follows the story of Spencer, a nineteen-year-old snarky smart ass who happens to be the son of the most powerful Augment ever, the Crimson Mask (think Superman, but he acts like a dick). Unlike his famous dad, Spencer has no powers and has been locked up at the ice-cave-o-solitude "for his own protection." Somehow this "kid" with no powers will have to face killer robots and try to rescue his mom from the Black Beetle, an Augment who can go toe to toe with dear old daddy.

Spencer immediately pulled me in, and I love his voice. I. Love. It. Spencer's idioms and world-view made me chuckle and also felt the keen of his loneliness like I was right with him. His voice feels fresh, a little literary, and most importantly, real. I have never been, nor will I ever be, a teenage boy...but I felt Spencer's emotions and lived in his world and tasted something like it was real. His struggles were well-rounded, and he had high moments and plenty of low ones. He's had his share of troubles and trauma, and a witty gallows humor I adore. What gets me most about Spencer is his relationships with his mother, his asshat father, and his best friend. He has REAL relationships, strained and strong alike, and the go through highs and lows like real life. He felt real, and that's the best compliment I can possibly give a fictional character.

Which brings me to my comparison, Steelheart. I like superheros and stories about people with epic powers, so naturally I've read the NYT Bestseller Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.
Smaller on purpose, take that!
While I enjoyed Steelheart and thought it had a good story, I never identified with the main character, David (another plain human about 19). Yeah I rooted for him, but it was the plot that kept me going through the book. What I love is character-centered stories, and it's odd for me to be okay with one where the character falls flat. So good, but not great.

Crimson Son, on the other hand, has the characterization I crave. Both books have a normal main character facing off against people with superhero-esque powers. They're underdogs, and I always root for the underdog. The difference here is that Spencer is WAY cooler than David. Not only that, but the story had so much more emotional weight. I teared up a little toward the end. I need a book to pull on my heartstrings, and that's the difference between a three-star (Steehleart) and a five-star (Crimson Son) review.

The story of Crimson Son has layers. There's a beautiful balance of action scenes, emotional character interactions, and crazy dreamscape-style weirdness that pulls Spencer through the mystery surrounding him. I found lots of weight in Spencer's relationships, and especially his identity. He is between boy and man, teetering on the end of "teenager," though he's had enough life-experience to fill a swimming pool. The others in the book can't help calling him "kid," and he can't seem to shake the perception he's a child, when he feels like anything but. His impulsive actions speak volumes of his real maturity, even if he doesn't recognize it himself. Of course, his crazy decisions are what make this book such a fun ride anyway.

The writing style really pulled me in. Now, I used to loathe first person present tense, but after reading about a dozen books in the style, it's grown on me. I think first person present, when used well, has the opportunity to convey a voice and immediacy that other stuff can't. In Crimson Son, the style makes Spencer's voice shine.

The only oddity I found were the few scenes written from the Black Beetle's point of view (third person, past tense). The first time this happened, it jarred me, though the rest of the story was so compelling, I gave Russ the benefit of the doubt and kept on. There's only a few parts like this in the book, which makes you wonder why they're necessary at all if Spencer can pull his own weight. When I got to the turning point, I realized the reason these scenes were included. Without this point of view, the reader would have no idea (because Spencer has no idea) what motivations go behind the decision made in that scene. (Look at me deftly avoiding spoilers.) It was an "AHA!" moment, and I'm glad I knew what was really going on. The third-person sections gave that scene meaning and much more impact than it would have had without them. So while it may seem out of place when you first hit those markers, pay attention, because there's a pay-off at the end.

Okay, I'm done rambling about this book now, so I'll leave you with my final remarks. Crimson Son is a 5-star book. Fast paced, engaging, character-driven, and a fun voice I love to read. As far as non-traditional Superhero books go, Crimson Son blows Steelheart out of the water. If Steelheart deserved to be on the NYT Bestseller list, so does Crimson Son. I hope this makes a mark and gets noticed, and to help, I'm gonna buy a copy on the release day to support the first-day numbers. I already own a copy, and I'm buying another one. Let that be a review.

:-)

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