Since the dawn of flight, anyone that ever stepped onto the deck of an airship is one of two things: running away from trouble, or flying towards it. The young Vasili Mikhailovich, the mediocre son of the fallen hero and airship captain Anton Mikhailovich, has the misfortune of being in both camps.
You ever experience a story that’s in the wrong medium? I have. The Maze Runner, of which I only saw the movies, should have been a video game. The Cursed Child had no business being published and should have remained a live play only. And The Apotheosis Break is a story fit for a graphic novel. It was obvious to me as I was reading it that I was missing a key component of the story that a visual medium such as a graphic novel would have given me, and many of the weaknesses of the book would have been, if not fixed, then at least helped by such a medium.
The Apotheosis Break is not a bad novel by any mean. The writing is skillful and engaging, enough so that even as I grew more annoyed by some elements of the story I still kept reading. I’ll probably read the sequel too. I can recognize that the book is good, and that a lot of people will like it. Unfortunately, I just happen to turn out to be very neutral towards it.
My biggest peeve with the novel is that it raises many questions, and answers none of it. This novel takes place in the middle of a world with incredible worldbuilding and complex geopolitics, and then tells me fuck all about any of it. By the end of the book, neither I nor the protagonist understand what is going on. We don’t know any of the other characters’ motivations or backstory, and as our protagonist’s own goals are only to survive and get some adventure on the way, that means that most of the book’s action are things that happen to him instead of things that he does. He has zero influence on anything that happens, and while that might work for the first arc of a story, a whole book can’t stand on that. I feel as if everything in the book still would have happened without him, which is not a good thing for a protagonist. The best way I can think of to put it is that Vasili doesn’t pass the sexy lamp test.You could replace him by anyone or anything else, and the story would still have unfolded the same. I wish he’d had some skill or talent or something that would have made him be useful to the plot aside from as a witness.
And since I don’t know anything about anyone’s motivations, and what they’re all actually doing is never revealed or explained to our point of view character, that just means that a lot of things are happening and I don’t know why. I don’t know how these events relate to eachother, and a lot of interesting worldbuilding details are dangled temptingly just out of my reach. The Shards seem interesting, but I don’t know what they do. There is magic? But nothing about it is ever explained. At some point Vasili gets some sort of visions? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As I said, all of this is okay as the first part of a novel, to drum up interest, but at some points a few questions should be answered before the end of it. I understand that this is a serie, but a first novel should still feel like a complete whole with a couple of threads left dangling. This feels like the first season of Lost.
I wouldn’t be this critical of a graphic novel, because the medium influences the structure of the narrative. And the narrative of The Apotheosis Break is already structured like a graphic novel. There are three « arcs », so to speak, in the story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. (Vasili in his home town, the marquis job and the return to the ship.) This is unusual for a novel, where you’d generally want to keep the story moving towards a single goal, with side plots of lesser importance helping build or hinder the main storyline. In this novel, however, the storyline follows the more episodic format of serialised tv or graphic novels. I’m not certain it was on purpose, though, which definitely hinders my enjoyment of them. None of theses three arcs feel related to eachother in a solid way without answering some questions about the crew of the ship and what they want/who they are.
Another thing that a visual medium would help with is the worldbuilding. The story spends a lot of time on descriptions, especially when we visit the airship. This is great for readers who can easily picture the ship in their minds, but I had to constantly go back to the ship map (not fun on a e-reader) and even then a lot of the ship’s interior was just words to me. The book felt long because it was full of descriptions, and an over-abundance of descriptions can easily get tedious. (see: The Lord of the Rings. We get it Tolkiens, you’re a linguist. You like words.) A visual medium would easily halve the lenght of certain chapters, allowing us to get more quickly to the action, and perhaps even devote some time for character development. (This isn’t to say that the characters aren’t fully fleshed out. They are, and I liked them, especially Jonas. But without knowing their motivations, it was hard to say whether there was any character development or any change in them affected by the story or our main character. I mean. There was definitely change in Jonas’ life, but not the sort I’m looking for.)
And besides, this is a steampunk airship novel. Can you imagine what that would look like in a graphic novel? It would be so cool. SO COOL. Because this book really is very cool! There are airships, battles, stories, a heist, and just a ton of fun stuff in this novel. Like I said, I’m certain that a ton of people will like it, and I *will* rec it to some of my steampunk-loving friends even though I, personnally, am neutral towards it. That bumps my rating from two stars to two and a half, because while I’m « meh » about it it’s a good « meh. » A « story needs work, but the writing is on point » meh.
I mean, I probably wouldn’t be as annoyed that I’m not getting any answers if I didn’t want those answers, you know?
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