The first of a trilogy of action-packed, cyberpunk adventures to feature Samuil Petrovitch, a clever Russian with a dodgy heart and a dodgier past, set twenty years after Armageddon in the London Metrozone. Gangsters, gang warfare, virtual reality and an unfeasibly large nun all feature.
It's a book that is certainly not short of action. We are not told what the Armageddon event was, although aspects of it are hinted at. Perhaps that will become explained later in the series. What we do know is that it has wiped out Japan, and one of the first victims of the event in London appears to have been the Congestion Charge as it is now a heaving metropolis with gridlock traffic (although this and the masses of people seem to mysteriously evaporate as the story unfolds).
Petrovitch is an entertaining and endearingly horrible central character. He's brilliant, he's self-centred and he has a nice line in sarcastic put downs. He also has a dodgy heart - so perhaps not the greatest person to pin the hopes of the future on. He also has a rich line in swearing - although this is always in Russian. To start with, this is amusing but soon begins to become a little annoying and a bit childish. In saying that though, it's a book that reads much like the storyboard for an action packed software game rather than a book or a movie and so perhaps that young, probably male, teen to adult market is where this book best fits in and therefore perhaps the toning down of the language is to be admired.
The future London is depicted as in the grip of competing gangs of gangsters - the efficient Japanese, the rather seedier Russians and the urban ghetto poor gang based on the Paradise housing estates. Somewhere in the middle is the almost equally corrupt and morally bankrupt police, represented by the bumbling Harry Chain. When Petrovitch breaks his golden rule of not getting involved by rescuing the daughter of the head of the Japanese syndicate from being kidnapped by the Russian gang, he sets off a chain of rapidly unfolding events that drives the plot of the book. Fortunately Petrovitch benefits from the protection of a two metre tall warrior nun (it's best not to ask, I think).
I'm not going to tell you any more about the plot as that is the essence of the book. And there's no doubt that it rattles along and keeps you turning the pages to see how the plot is going to work itself out and to enjoy more of Petrovitch's cynical put downs.
Ultimately though I found it all a bit lightweight. Fortunes swing this way and that but it all gets a bit repetitive as the action ramps up. There are some genuinely interesting ideas, particularly in a virtual reality world, but I never got the sense that it was in a richly imagined world. The ideas seem more plonked into our world as if some things have advanced but others not and there's a lack of explanation of the underpinning ideas. Perhaps these are explained more in future books. Let's hope so.
I'm not the most easily offended of readers, but there are several aspects of this book that I found, at best, in bad taste and, at worst, somewhat offensive in being used to generate action that isn't particularly central to the plot development. At one point there's a train crash reminiscent of a tragic case in the UK a few years ago, and another 9/11 style drone-flying-into-high-rise-building event. And in a world where there is no mention of Arab or Islamic influence, why is the machine uprising referred to as a Jihad? It struck me as gratuitously sensationalist and in questionable taste.
But for all these issues, I won't deny that Petrovitch is an entertaining central character and it may well appeal to a young adult market keen for a high octant, action-packed, cyberpunk romp.