Book Review: Shield and Crocus by Michael R Underwood

Underwood_SHIELD_CROCUS_Front_Cvr-1-e1404090951994I’m not going to lie.

This was an interesting one.

A good interesting but on a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being ‘Generic Fantasy Land, next exit’, 10 being ‘Whoa, wait a minute, where the hell am I…and… did my exit just get eaten by a cavernous black pit?’. Well, this scores a 10. Maybe an 11. I’ll let you be the judge.

Shield and Crocus reads as if Underwood took an X-men-like mutant superheroes team and wanted to see what would happen if you threw them into a China Mieville-esque styled weird fantasy world. Luckily this was pretty well Underwood’s intention, and I’m happy to say he succeeded with flying colors.

Shield and Crocus takes place in a city that’s built among the remains of a fallen giant, where a small and motley group of superheroes looks to reclaim their home from five criminal tyrants who are doing a remarkable job screwing things up for everyone.

The tyrants are bad news but it’s still nothing compared to the mysterious “Spark-storms” that bestow everyday citizens with wild, unpredictable abilities and occasionally turn the neighborhood coffee shop into a cavernous, serrated-toothed monster intent on eating…well, everyone.

The heroes, called The Shields of Audec-Hal, are led by the oldest surviving member, First Sentinel, and do have one thing going for them; the tyrants are so busy fighting each other they can’t be bothered putting any real effort into taking down The Shields, that is until they agree to divide the city and cement their rule of Audec-Hal, forcing The Shield’s hand to either save the city or help hasten its demise.

So, is Shield and Crocus worth your time?

This one isn’t a clear yes or no. It really depends on you as a reader.

This is Underwood’s second step up to bat in the publishing world, his first being the urban fantasy series Geekomancy (Pocket Star, with a second urban fantasy series, Younger Gods, also with Pocket Star, coming out Oct 2014). Shield and Crocus is a marked departure from Underwood’s urban fantasy; the prose here leans on the literary side and the story really does read like a superhero/weird fiction mash-up. The pacing takes its cue from the superhero-patented ‘keep your pants on’, but Underwood does an admirable job fitting a highly unconventional setting into a story without weighing it down with needless prose. Altogether this makes for a really interesting addition to his portfolio, and Underwood should be commended for taking a chance many buy neurontin uk other writers might shy away from.

Having said that, be forewarned Shield and Crocus really isn’t an urban fantasy follow up to Geekomancy (If you loved Geekomancy and are waiting for another UF, you may want to hold out for Underwood’s Younger Gods coming out this fall). The setting may also be jarring to fans of the superhero genre who go in expecting something more along the lines of Peter Clines zombie/super hero mash-up, ‘Ex Heroes’. And neither of those statements is meant as criticism. Underwood is showing some fantastic range as a writer very early in his career and is setting an ambitious writing pace. He should be applauded for venturing this far outside the urban fantasy zone so early on.

For fans of weird fiction in the mood for something with more of a superhero leaning, and vice versa, I think this will deliver. The pacing is fast enough to appease superhero fans but with enough detail in the prose to keep you orientated throughout the strange world Underwood’s created.

For those not familiar with the weird fiction genre, I recommend trying something from that genre first (ex: China Mieville, Perdido Street Station) to see if this arena is for them.

To the urban fantasy and superhero genre fans whose reading preferences tend towards skimming and fast reads, I advise caution. While the pacing and action are certain to deliver, the prose is heavier, and you’ll need to pay attention in order to navigate the world and rules. If you’re not eyes open to the challenge this one might throw you.

Check out recent Podcast #265 with Michael R Underwood where he talks about Shield and Crocus.

Kristi Charish

Kristi Charish – AISFP Contributor

Kristi is a scientist and science fiction/urban fantasy author who resides in Vancouver, Canada. The first installment in her debut urban fantasy series, OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS, is scheduled for release Jan 2015 through Simon & Schuster Canada/Pocket Books.

She received her BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and her PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.

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Final word: if you’re ready for a challenge to the genre status quo and up for a read that’s heavy on the weird and out of the box, Shield and Crocus is a great place to start!

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