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The Apocalypse Bell by Angela N. Hunt

By / July 13, 2016 / no comments

Up for release in July 2016, we have The Apocalypse Bell by Angela N. Hunt, which is apparently the latest in a loosely related series called Curse and Quanta. To be honest, I don’t actually know how this book fits into the series itself, because I had never heard of the series before I was asked to review this book, and my knowledge of it goes no further than the synopses of previous titles. From these synopses, I can tell you that major characters are recurring, but little else. Many plot points and offhanded mentions in this book appear to take it for granted that you are already at least somewhat familiar with what’s going on. So if you aren’t already salivating for the continuation of this series, but think you might really be into secret agent based urban fantasy, it would probably behove you to read the earlier works in the series first.

 

bfb reviews apocalypse bellNow, because I don’t like doing summaries in a non-academic setting, I’m going to copy and paste the blurb for this book below, just to get it out of the way:

 

Angie Guterman has been a spy for a very long time.

 

She has given her life and her abilities to her country, abandoning all other concerns and desires for being one of the best.  The intelligence community calls her Polaris, and she has been as constant as that same star for over thirty years.  Until the day that even her constancy is shattered.

 

Because everyone has secrets in a profession like hers.  And no one gets to keep them forever.

 

Not when it means stopping the end of the World. 

 

Again.

 

First things first: I don’t live reviewing books mid-series, because it can be very hard to tell the difference between a sloppy plot point, and something that was set up in a previous book. This book calls itself ‘the first in a new series,’ but it absolutely depends on the happenings of previous books to establish a number of character relationships. This doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed if you just pick the story up right here, but it does mean that you aren’t getting everything you could be out of it. So understand that I am reviewing this book as someone who knows literally nothing about the world in which it takes place.

 

Okay. Now, what’s good about this book?

 

Predictably, in a book where basically every character is a secret agent or spy (and there are dozens here), the pacing is fast. This book clocks in at a slim 164 pages, and they are not dense Gormenghast pages either. There is little wasted time, and only a few wasted PoVs. The prose is sufficient, if sometimes uninspired. It frequently features dramatic questions built up and then answered by single sentence punchline paragraphs. I have no idea how common these are in suspense novels, but I, as a member of the uninitiated, found them reminiscent of the prose style of Michael Crichton, which you can take for what you will.

 

The magic system of the series is the thing I found most interesting. It’s hard to describe in a way that is going to do it justice in a small space, but basically, there is something called The Chant of the World (inspired by the idea of Musica Universalis, an actual philosophical/religious concept), which us plebs are incapable of hearing, but which certain gifted people, endowed at birth or made that way through gruesome experimentation, hear all the time. Being able to hear this music apparently makes one capable of performing feats that would generally be considered magic – either by changing it or ‘harmonizing’ with it – or at least highly implausible. In a simple and unintentional example, one character manages to fix a car that is more or less nothing but a giant paperweight by humming what he thinks is just a piece of music stuck in his head while working on it. Other characters do far more dramatic things, such as teleporting, jumping through mirrors, and killing. It’s a little more complicated than this, and it’s never actually explained in this book, but I’m actually okay (and perhaps even partial to) not receiving an instruction manual in how the world’s magic system works. It’s internally consistent, and even based loosely on something people actually think, so kudos to the author for creativity + research.

 

Now for the rest. The book immediately presumes that you know a lot more than I did going in. In the early goings of the book, we jump between dozens of different characters, for whom we receive perhaps a page of exposition, before jumping to the next. I found this annoying. It does eventually slow down, but I still find myself unsure of what exactly the point of a lot of it was. In one particularly egregious case, we get exposition from the PoV of a character simply going about their day (for a given value of ‘simply going about their day’ when the character is a spy) who is later revealed to have died. We don’t see them die, and they contribute absolutely nothing to the story that couldn’t have been contributed without their PoV. I get the feeling that this was all supposed to read as complex – how is the author going to tie all these threads together??? – but to me it read as somewhat slapdash and vaguely confused. Imagine The Stand, if the average PoV length for the introductory stage of the story was two paragraphs.

 

One thing which starts out as looking like a point in the book’s favor, which later does a 180, is the book’s narrative voice. PoV switches will be accompanied by a switch in the narrative style. A scientist’s internal monologue will use a lot of big words and ‘above-it-all’ style pontificating, while a teenager’s internal monologue will use a lot of slang and cursing, and in the very next PoV, the book’s spymistress thinks of everything in terms of problems to solve and moves to make. Because the book has so many characters, this is a great way of marking the differences between them all. The problem is that the longer the author hovers in a given PoV, the more that character begins to amble toward a sort of identity-less default that combines all of the book’s voices. A character will act like a vaguely proper motherly country-girl type, and then instantly lapse into bouts of cursing five times per sentence for little to no reason, and then instantly lapse again into good cheer and a bubbly use of teenage girl-esque slang in the style of ‘obvee’ for obviously, ‘totes,’ ‘FroYo,’ etc. Now, these characters are all spies and secret agents, so if they were out in the field, adapting disguises to suit a given situation, this would still be a point in the book’s favor. But this personality ping-ponging will be happening when they are in private conversations with one another.

 

This leads me into by far the most annoying thing about this book. Tell me what you think of the below dialogue:

 

“Swordfish, the guests will be arriving at quarter past six, but might need a pack of smokes. Is the dinner ready?”

 

“Confirmed, Basilisk. Picking up smokes. Catering is good. Am I bringing fireworks for the celebration?”

 

“Negative, guest has a headache. Bring the bounce house for the kids. And send my laundry over when you can.”

 

“Acknowledged. Passing under Thompson Bridge now. I see a briefcase hanging on a zip line. See you soon.”

 

This particular exchange, which in imaginary spy parlance means ‘there are some people that need protecting with guns, no explosives, but a getaway vehicle and some armor might be nice, and also the info you wanted is at the Thompson Bridge’ was completely made up by me. But the book uses stuff exactly like this constantly. This makes sense when having a conversation on a phone you know the bad guys are probably listening to (although the spy-talk is so basic that it would be weird if enemy agents who were familiar with it couldn’t decipher it all instantly), but characters on the same side will still be talking in code like this while they’re sitting together at a kitchen table in their safe house. I’m not generally a reader of thrillers (the genre where spies and agents habitually make their home), but I have never seen so much copious spy-talk in my life. It doesn’t take long for it to get tiresome when every exchange takes place in it, especially when everybody involved in or listening to the conversation – the characters and the reader – all know everything that’s being talked about already. Or when both characters know everything, and seem to talk in code for the sole purpose that the reader won’t know what’s going on. Because as a corollary to this, there is an obnoxious amount of I know exactly what’s happening, but I am not gonna tell YOOOOUUUU going on in the narrative in this book. A handful of characters in the book seem to know more or less everything about everything, but insist on obfuscating the details for no discernible good reason.

 

Overall, it’s a book with some good ideas, and it is easily readable, but I probably wouldn’t advise it as an introduction to [whatever genre you’d call this, existing at the crossroads of thriller and urban fantasy] if you aren’t already a fan. This is a book for people who like Curse and Quanta, or who at least know beyond doubt that this is the style of story that blows their hair back (and even if that is the case, I’d recommend starting this series with an earlier book).

 

Review by Forum Member Amaryllis

About the author

Jon Snow

Believe it or not, Jon Snow really got into reading only after reading A Game of Thrones back in 2002. Previously the only fantasy he had read were Lord of the Rings and many Magic: The Gathering books.While juggling teaching life, he tries to keep up with recently published books.

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