Yep, it’s review time again! Bound by Alan Baxter, is the tenth book I’ve sunk my teeth into this year, and that may not seem a lot to some, but when weighed against my work (which entails a tonne of reading) and my own writing, I’m doing pretty damn well.
So, in keeping with my reading of Aussie authors, Alan Baxter’s tome had crept its way to the top of my ‘to read’ pile. Now before we venture much further, this review comes with a disclaimer: Alan is a mate; we’re both part of a group of spec-fic writers (big up Sydney SHADOWS!) who get together as often as we can — but never often enough — to discuss all things writing and books and comics and life and stuff while we drink copious amounts of Fat Yak (but that’s a story for another day).
With the requisite disclaimer out of the way, now comes the requisite spoiler alert:
<insert Dalek voice here> DANGER! DANGER! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! DANGER! DANGER!
Bound is the first book in Baxter’s ‘Alex Caine’ trilogy, published through Harper Voyager. I’m familiar with Alan’s shorter works, so I was looking forward to reading one of his longer pieces. Bound introduces us to Alex Caine, an underground fighter (think MMA) with an uncanny ability to ‘read’ his opponents moves before they’re delivered. He does this via what he calls ‘shades’ (Magesign), and it’s made him top of his game. A usually solitary figure, Caine gets himself into some trouble from a local Sydney ‘gangsta’ (I’ve always wanted to write that word), and with the timely visit from an Englishman, Welby, who knows Alex’s secret, the adventure begins.
To avoid the veritable shitstorm coming Caine’s way, he accepts Welby’s invitation to travel to London. This is the beginning of Caine’s globetrotting quest, and an introduction to a world and magic and “people” (Fey), he never knew existed. Caine is somewhat of a ‘savant’ when it comes to the magic he possesses, and the Fey-world into which he’s been thrust is hard and unforgiving.
Welby needs Caine to decipher an ancient book no one (Fey or Kind) have been able to unlock. From here, things go from bad to worse then worserer (yeah, I said it). The book ‘Uthentia’ holds the remnants of an ancient Fey-godling that wants nothing more than to return chaos to all worlds – human and Fey – and no matter how much Caine wants rid of the book, it’s hitched its trailer to him. Add in the shards of a magical stone (on which his quest balances), Caine is in some serious shit. He’s a conduit, one who’s trying to conquer the bad mojo for survival. Not just his, but that of the worlds.
Baxter’s tale is fast-paced, and the magic he’s created is interesting, and something of which I wanted to know more. He touches on the monsters of popular culture and myth alike, which, for me, only placed me more solidly in Baxter’s world. He also take the writer credo: ‘write what you know’, to heart here. A kung-fu instructor himself, he’s incorporated the fighting skills and lessons of his sifu to see Caine through his quest and internal battle with the magic that’s ‘bound’ itself to him, and you can see that in the believability of the fight scenes.
Caine isn’t alone in travels. A half-Fey, Silhouette, has taken a shine to him, and Caine falls hard and fast for her. I was a little worried Silhouette was the ‘requisite love interest’, but she holds her own, and doesn’t shy from who she is and what she needs to do to survive. Something she doesn’t hide from Caine either. Theirs is a complicated yet strikingly honest relationship (regardless of the secrets each needs to keep).
The two make a formidable force, as do the antagonists in this tale – (the fantastically tuckerised) Hood and Sparks. Nasty pieces of work, both. But well placed against Caine and Silhouette. There are shades of grey through all the characters, and that’s something I liked most about this tale.
There are sections of this story that those with weaker stomachs when it comes to fiction, might have trouble reading. If vivid violence, rough sex, and a shitload of swearing aren’t your cup of tea then this might not be the book for you. But creativity is meant to push boundaries, to take us places that make us wonder at what humanity really means. What’s that saying? ‘Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.’ Baxter does this well while providing a hell of a story to boot.
My only concern is that with such a fast-paced, action-packed first book, sustaining this through books two and three, and upping the ante, might make this a hard act to follow. I’m looking forward to the ride, though, I gotta say.
I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster when it comes to star ratings (you need to really earn a five star from me), and while it took me longer than I wanted to read Bound, it was more that I’m extremely time-poor, than a reflection on the story itself. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hankered to get back to it (Baxter’s “monsters” are pretty damn awesome), but real life and a tonne of work has a habit of imposing itself on my leisurely pursuits.
So, on a Goodreads scale, I give Bound 5 stars.