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Book Review: The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

09/09/2013 16:10 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 10:12 GMT

One of the many joys from my childhood were those wintery, rainy weekends. My twin brother and I would beg our poor mother to take us to the video shop. There we'd splash our pocket money renting such awesome classics as Star Wars and The Karate Kid, both of which we'd seen a million times before. One such VHS tape, that my father rather cleverly managed to pirate copy (as they did back then in the 80's) from one VHS player to another, my brother and I would sit down in front of the television and watch from start to finish, only then to rewind the entire tape and start again! This stretched tomb of 35mm Scotch tape, was Superman II.

The copy was a warped and pixelated mess of an image. Superman's voice would wallow, up and down, in a range of off the scale pitches, causing our cat to leg it out of the lounge and go hide under our sink! But despite these faults, they added to its splendour. As such imperfections almost gave it a soul, making the tape and the others that followed, an odd addition to the family, certainly based on how often these cumbersome plastic boxes of love would play babysitter!

This is almost certainly why the superhero genre resides and continues to affect me today. Nostalgia is a power tool to draw people in, and if played out correctly, with every detail exposed and presented, it will always deliver.

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Celebrated for his various fantasy works and the award winning novel Osama. Tidhar's latest outing makes it clearly evident that he is also cut from an identical cloth of my own and thus a great fan of the comic book genre. The Violent Century is set in a modern Elseworlds London, capital of an imperialist Britain. Two guardians, Fogg and Oblivion, partners and defenders of the righteous, are reunited to tackle a past that takes them all other the world spanning many decades, meeting likeminded and maniacal super humans along the way, each with their part to play in this high stakes tale of friendship and what it ultimately means to truly be a hero.

After the first few chapters it's obvious of Tidhar's influence from the Vertigo graphic novels of DC Comics, such as The Sandman Series and Watchmen. Evident in the fact that there are many similarities to the narratives, especially that of Watchmen; its set in an alternative history, both of the heroes are regarded to be more a menace than a cure, with acts of heroism just perceived as one doing their duty, the main plot is focused on what makes a real hero, with the needs of the many out weighing the needs of the few, the structure of the prose reads at a pace that matches the narration of a film noir (or neo noir) detective; exactly like that of the ultra-violent anti-hero Rorschach or the love sick brick s**t house Marv from Frank Miller's Sin City.

This style of writing makes the sentences at first, rather difficult to read, especially if you're not used to the genre. However, these pages are set out to be read fast. It took me a while to get used to it, but once I did, I was speeding my way though the pages! This style is indeed very clever, in that it helps to give the world a bleak cast iron shell, where imagining life in such a place as being black and white, dark, and at times, pretty nasty.

It's also hugely refreshing to read such a story set in my home nation, as opposed to overly used Americas. The ambivalent relationship between the two protagonists is both a good nod to the side-kick struggle for leadership and could keep anyone, regardless of the types of stories they regularly enjoy, interested and engaged. Tidhar has created a book that oozes excellence in both characterisation and storytelling.

At the end, the story comes together in an awesome gymnastics workout for your imagination. But I can't help but have wished this book had been turned into a graphic novel, as the often hard cutting imaginative descriptions combined with the harsh writing style, would have made for some extremely impressive comic cells.

The Violent Century is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to pre-order on Amazon now. Hardback available 24th October 2013.