It did not take me long to get to the second volume (mainly because it did not take Boyfriend long and yay, free access to books). But also… I did really enjoy volume 1, so obviously I was keen to keep going.
Now, remember when I had some concerns they were just going to make one of the characters a cheap Holmes knock-off? Yeah, that happened. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, because frankly there are some depths you can plumb there – especially the kind of depths that have feminist-KKK as your antagonists, naming no names – but it wasn’t exactly amazing either. The Holmesian super detective is not an unhackneyed trope, and it’s the sort of thing that’s quite difficult to do well when what you’re doing isn’t new or interesting. It’s too easy for your detective to be some sort of magical super brain… which Holmes himself totally is, but hey, Doyle got there first so he gets some leeway. I generally find pseudo-Holmes characters really irritating, either because they’re emphatically not as good, or because they have a “logic” superiority complex that makes me want to wallop them with a philosophy textbook. Often both. Vivak doesn’t make it into that sort of territory – and they definitely do some work to mitigate the Holmesian emotionless logic-bot thing – but it’s still such a tired old thing to be doing that it just doesn’t work for me. And the whole volume is Vivak time.
The other issue with it is somewhat linked. It’s a volume about a detective character, and so, for the most part, it slips into the role of the detective story. Shocking, I know. Alas… it’s not a very good detective story. It’s still too busy trying to give us more of the world building and setup for the cool and exciting magical stuff, and that gets in the way of making a neat detection story. If you introduce magical effects or actions late in the game, you ruin the solvability of the mystery, or the illusion of solvability. I think a good detective story, when you get to the answer, has to feel like you had all the tools to get there yourself… you just didn’t quite make it. But if you’re introducing concepts in the last third, you’re never going to get that impression – you didn’t have all the facts. And so it falls a little flat.
And then… there’s the humour. It’s pretty damn juvenile several times – we’re talking referring to a dildo as “Dongzilla” levels here – and again, it just fell flat for me. It’s not my sort of funny. I know it works for others but just… not me.
Which makes it sound like I hated it. But I promise I didn’t. Because underneath the several not-quite-ideal bits, there’s still a really cool setting that’s clearly gearing up for some fantastic plot. Yes, I’ve just spent a whole volume with a character I find dull as all heck… but they’ve wanted me to spend time with the characters. They clearly want to give us space to love them all (even though some of them won’t work for me) and I like that. I like the dedication to character building. Especially as it seems like the next volume focuses on someone I really do want to learn more about (Brigid, super-hacker).
When it comes to all that cool world-building, to a large extent, there’s nothing new about it compared to the first volume. But that’s sort of what I want? It’s consistently good on that front, in a way that promises well for things to come. It’s moving the story along, giving us new information at a decent pace, and maintaining the standard of that information. It’s all pretty good stuff. If you drag it away from the silly detective thing… it’s a really solid volume.
I do think the art in this one was also a bit better – I don’t know if it was to do with the story being told, but it felt like it contributed a lot better to the atmosphere of the whole thing. True, it still wasn’t exactly stellar levels, but it was better.
A lot is going to rest on volume 3. If it does a story I like more, and maintains the good parts we’ve had so far, then sure, I’ll be fully sold and dedicated unless later volumes do something egregious. If we have another silly gimmick that falls flat? Eh…
Next up, I get started on the Nebula nominees, beginning with Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. I’ve in fact finished it already and… yeah that blog post is going to be longer than this one was. Probably a lot longer. And grumpier.
Spoilers: not a fan.