What does it take for a book to catch your attention? Recently, I was in my favourite section, fantasy, of my favourite store, the book store, when I saw a book that blended two of my favourite genres, fantasy and superheroes. Enough to allure me, I took my next step, research. Oh, the future, where I can pull a computer out of my pocket in the middle of the book store and find everything I need to know. While reviews on the novel were mixed, and a 3.1 rating on Goodreads is a warning sign, I did find some things to bump up my interest. First, it has been said to have many resemblances to one of the greatest comic books of all time, The Watchmen. Second, the debut author has quite the back story, working in the comic industry, but also, formerly working as a CIA officer. SOLD. I am in. This book has every potential to tickle my every last nerd fantasies.
A Once Crowded Sky, debut novel of Tom King, (If you look this book up it says Mr. King happens to be the Baron King of Bridgewater. Not true, different guy. Although that would be an awesome title for a fantasy author, he has worked on many comic titles, including: Batman, Nightwing, and most recently The Vision.) was published in 2012. A fitting time to release a superhero themed novel, with comic book heroes being centre stage in the film industry as of late. As previously mentioned, reviews on the book were mixed, many struggling with the transition of classic superheroes into the novel format. There is one positive to this book that everyone seems to agree on. The book includes comic style pages, with original sketches from Canadian artist Tom Fowler. The talented illustrator who has worked on titles such as: Mad Magazine, Green Arrow, Hulk: Season One, and Deadpool.
A Once Crowded Sky is set much like The Watchmen, in an alternate timeline that once held a thriving superhero community, but now they are all but gone. The Watchmen similarities end there. Instead of being forced into retirement by an overbearing government, the heroes (and villains) of this book had sacrificed their powers in the ultimate showdown to save the planet. All but the sidekick of this worlds Superman. PenUltimate is the last man on the planet with powers, and the last one who would want them. As many powerless heroes strive to relive their glory days, PenUltimate is tortured with the fact he was the only one not to show up to the final battle. The only hero not to make the sacrifice.
While there is imminent danger, and a woven plot, A Once Crowded Sky focuses less on the action and more on the psyche of the heroes under the mask. Each unique character struggles with their own demons. Whether it be moving on from being in the spot light, or being tortured with the mistakes they have made. Tom King does an excellent job of going deep into the minds of typical heroes. All the included characters have a connection to a comic book archetype and it is easy to find comparisons for each of them. Thus, you get another perspective on the inner workings of some of your classic favourites.
With the inclusion of pages that look like they were directly taken from a comic book, the other unique quality of this novel is the breaks and transitions. With each segment within a chapter being broken up as an ‘issue’ of a comic. Each comic with its specified number, there are many ‘titles’ within the book.
Looking back, this book has all of the potential to be a quality read. Genre, great illustrations, unique perspective, creative format, powerful characters. And I wanted to enjoy this novel, I really did. Unfortunately, it was not so great, and I struggled to finish it. The prose was too flowery and could use more of a straight forward approach. The poetic stylings distracted, and felt out of place. There were too many characters, with too much going on. Half way through, it is difficult to remember what is happening for certain individuals, as even more characters are just getting their introduction. Leaving the plot to move at the slowest of paces, and often forgotten as we pause to read an origin story that has minimal connection to the story. Despite the in-depth look at individual characters, I still struggled to connect with most of them, and often had to look back to refresh myself on who was whom. There is a wild web weaved through the book, but with the over bearing prose and the addition of too many complex characters, it is difficult to follow along and stay interested.
There is much potential in this story, and I believe it could benefit from a major editing overhaul. I pushed myself through, because I genuinely wanted to enjoy the book. But, by the end I just did not care any more. 2/5, I am shocked that I have to say this book could use less. If it was slimmed down of the unessential reading, and placed in a more direct manner, the story would hold together better. Many people have enjoyed this book, so don’t take my words in stone. I would recommend this book for those that enjoy superheroes and a look into psyche evaluation. If you are a true crime fan, that also loves comic books, this novel may be a stand out for you. This is a unique story, about many well known archetypes, in a format that is original.
Thanks booknerds, I’ll stick to comics for my superhero fix from now on.