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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Devils' Cape by Rob Rogers (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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Order Devil's Cape over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob Rogers lives in Texas. He is a writer, editor, and communications project manager by trade. Devil’s Cape is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Devil's Cape, Louisiana. Founded by pirates. Ruled by villains. Desperate for heroes.

In 1727, the masked pirate St. Diable created the city of Devil's Cape as a haven for his men and a place to begin his empire. Pirates gave way to outlaws, who gave way to gangsters, who gave way to gangs and organized crime. But the city has never escaped from its shroud of violence and corruption.

And now a stunning, murderous act has made Devil's Cape more dangerous than ever. Someone needs to protect

the city. Three people are willing to try. Jason Kale, part of a criminal family, who hides the abilities of Greek heroes. Cain Ducett, a psychiatrist and former gang member, who finds that he is turning into a monster. Kate Brauer, genius engineer, daughter of a slain superhero, who has lost more than most to the city and its criminals. But they're outnumbered and overpowered. Can they possibly make a difference?

CLASSIFICATION: Devil’s Cape is a dark urban fantasy tale featuring an alternate Earth where heroes and villains co-exist with normal people. Think the origin story of the Avengers mixed in with the gritty crime drama of the Sopranos and set in hot, muggy Louisiana.

FORMAT/INFO: Devil’s Cape is 416 pages long divided over forty-seven numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes an Acknowledgements page and a Map of Devil’s Cape along with a “sites of interest” listing. There are about 48 observational tales, anecdotes and various Devil’s Cape minutiae to go along with the start of each chapter. Narration is in the third-person via many main POV characters: Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett, Jason Kale, Jessica “Jazz” Rydland, Warren Sims, Joe Gaines Julian Kalodimos, Hector Nelson Poteete, Costas and Pericles Kalodimos. Devil’s Cape is largely self-contained, but leaves a thread open for a future sequel.

December 23, 2010 marked the self-published e-book release of Devil’s Cape. It was previously published by the now defunct Wizards of the Coast Discoveries.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I had previously read Devil’ Cape nearly a decade ago when it was still under its Wizards Of The Coast publishing press. I had loved that book back and I was very excited to see it submitted for this year’s SPFBO. When I first read Devil’s Cape, I was absolutely stunned by its immense scope and how well the author executed his vision. After nearly a decade of reading it, I was wondering how it would hold to my tastes. It’s safe to say that the read held up as good as it was.

The story in Devil’s Cape is spread over a vast period of thirty-five years and twenty days with the narrative switching between the past and the present with each chapter being timestamped from nearly thirty years ago to a day after a horrific murderous event around which the main plot revolves. For the first few chapters of the book, the author introduces the three main characters—Kate Brauer, Cain Ducett and Jason Kale—and their backstories: Jason Kale is trying to distance himself from his family’s criminal past; Kate Brauer has come to Devil’s Cape to regain something which she lost and possibly carry on her family legacy; and Doctor Cain Ducett is targeted by someone from his violent past. In the first 150 pages, the author also introduces various secondary characters such as Costas Kalodimos, head of the Kalodimos family and caporegime to the Robber Baron (the current crime boss of Devil’s Cape).

The novel’s main event is a large-scale murder that propels the three protagonists in different ways. This event is the main one around which every other chapter is measured. It’s the pivotal event which leads to many a shake-up. Overall, the story has multiple threads ranging from family drama between brothers, to a person finding a semblance of themselves after a profound personal loss, even squabbling between crime bosses and rivalries. All of these minute and major events slowly start to coalesce into a fine tapestry (around a singular horrific event), which helps make this book so special and exciting to read.

Besides the story, the novel also succeeds due to excellent characterization with every single character presented in Devil’s Cape. This includes the three main protagonists, the secondary POVs, both good and evil, and even the characters who reside in the background . . . each get their chance to differentiate themselves in the reader’s mind. Simply put, characterization was the MAIN reason why the plot was brought to life so vividly. With this factor, it’s seems highly improbable that this is Rob Rogers’ debut novel, such is the mastery that’s showcased. Yet it’s true that this is indeed his debut. The story really shines a lot on everyone and we get a solid three-dimensional view into almost all of the POV characters.

Another major plus point of the novel is the city itself which is its own character thanks to the author slowly building up the image, history & geography of Devil’s Cape by providing random and specific tidbits here and there, including intriguing vignettes, quotations or recaps that open each chapter. Not only does this help make the city feel real, but it allows readers to become acclimatized with Devil’s Cape, while also adding various (metaphorical & literal) layers to the story. Like the origins of Devil’s Cape which is an important part of the novel. The author also beautifully describes several aspects of Devil’s Cape:

Dawn was breaking over Devil’s Cape’s historic Doubloon Ward. Wisps of fog snaked across streets lined with cast-iron lampposts designed to look like the gaslights that had stood there more than a century before, when horse-drawn carriages rolled along the roads instead of cars.

An eleven-story brownstone painted white and maroon, the Lo Center dated back to 1917 and featured heavy, curved eaves reminiscent of a pagoda. Trumpet vines crept up the walls and tangled around the shingles on the eaves.

Cap de Creus Street, the main artery of Devil’s Cape’s business district, was named for the farthest eastern point of the Iberian Peninsula, where the winds could carry a fisherman’s cap out of sight between two heartbeats or send the beam of a sail whipping around with murderous speed.

I loved this aspect of the book as it left an indelible impression of Devil’s Cape as a city and it became iconic in my mind such as GRRM’s King’s Landing, Scott Lynch’s Camorr, and many other incredibly described ones.

I also liked how the novel is grounded in reality. Yes, Devil’s Cape is full of super-powered people, but the world presented is dark, gritty and violent, while the physics and limitations of each superhero and supervillain is realistic, bringing to mind the kind of realism found in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In other words, nothing is off limits. Everyone has a weakness and even heroes can be killed, which makes it fun to see who survives and who doesn’t. The book also mixes terrific superhero action sequences with the rough & tumble approach of a crime drama. This unique mix makde it even more special as I've haven't come across any such a combination ever.

Lastly, Devil’s Cape is brimming with terrific symbolism. For instance, the novel can be construed as a parable of the corruption, avarice and basic human nature we live within our lives today. On the other hand, it can be looked at as an origin story where legends are made and epic events occur. Finally, readers can view the book as an odyssey where characters must go through various trials and tribulations in order to get wherever it is they want to go in life. In short, Devil’s Cape is a multi-faceted gem that offers a unique reading experience that can vary depending on the reader.

To top it off, after the action-packed climax, the author one-ups himself by dropping a huge twist, which makes the sequel a must read. Too bad it’s been over eleven years and we haven’t heard about anything of book 2. The story though stand proudly on its own and it’s a book that I would recommend to any noir-crime fan as well.

Negatively, there were only a few drawbacks in Devil’s Cape. The first is the pacing, which can be a bit languid for the first 100-150 pages as characters are introduced and the story is being set up, but it’s not a major issue since things steadily pick up afterwards and stay that way until the terrific climax. Secondly, the large cast of characters can be a bit troublesome to remember, but the author does his best to make sure the reader doesn’t get confused.

CONCLUSION: Random chance gave me another opportunity to read Devil’s Cape, and I’m very glad it did. Rob Rogers’ debut is a fantastic gem, the kind of novel that one fervently searches for, but rarely finds. In fact, Devil’s Cape has now become one of my favorite crime books of all time and I find it a cruel shame that the book is not more popular amongst SFF readers. After all, it’s one of the best superhero fiction novels in the current market. So do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Rob Rogers’ vastly underrated debut,  to see why it's so rave worthy...

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