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Monday, March 5, 2007

"Scar Night" by Alan Campbell

Official Alan Campbell Website


For first-time novelist Alan Campbell, best known as a designer/programmer of the internationally bestselling video game series Grand Theft Auto, Scar Night is a promising debut that has a lot to offer, both good and not so good.

First off, the world that Alan Campbell has created is highly imaginative and memorable, dominated by Deepgate, a city comprised of chains suspended over the seemingly bottomless abyss into the realm of Ulcis, “Hoarder of Souls”. Within the city itself are a number of distinctive districts (League of Rope, Bridgeview, etc.) that add personality to Deepgate, all of which is vividly rendered by Mr. Campbell. Unfortunately, aside from Deepgate, the larger world in which the city of chains resides in is only hinted at, and even when the action does take us to new locales, I found their portrayal much less engrossing and descriptive than that of the city.

Populating the world of Scar Night is a host of archetypical characters like the ‘na├»ve, wants to be a hero, last descendant of a legend’, teen-angel Dill; the ‘torn between duty and my heart’ Spine assassin Rachel Hael; and the ‘wise, yet hiding something’ Presbyter Sypes with the Poisoner Devon playing the part of flawed antagonist and the ancient, insane angel Carnival & the out-for-revenge scrounger Mr. Nettle emerging as the book’s antiheroes. Of these, I found the narratives of Poisoner Devon and Mr. Nettle the most entertaining and unique (with the scenes involving Carnival the most action-packed), though truthfully the characterization as a whole is very shallow and inconsistent – no one is really fleshed out with perhaps the exception of Devon; we never see relationships develop between characters though they act as if they have (Ex. Dill and Rachel); and characters constantly act out of turn with no explanations behind their actions.

Normally this does not bother me too much if the storytelling and pacing are strong enough to carry the book, but unfortunately this is another area where Mr. Campbell needs work on. While Scar Night starts out strong enough, the novel as a whole is a disjointed affair, with some chapters that had me absolutely glued to the pages due to the heart-pounding action, unique imagery and fascinating concepts that were depicted, while other scenes left me bored or unfulfilled, with the concluding chapters reading like a rushed and underdeveloped mess, despite all of the great ideas involved.

Fortunately, with Scar Night, Mr. Campbell has laid down the groundwork for a strong enough mythos – angels, fallen gods (Ulcis), undead, a god of Mazes (Iril), Heshette nomads, Ayen the God of Light, Spine assassins, an ancient weapon of mass destruction – that, despite the book’s faults, was entertaining enough to leave me looking forward to the next volume in the Deepgate Codex, where hopefully by then, Alan Campbell’s skills as a writer will have improved…

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