About the Book
They’d never meant to be heroes.
For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.
But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.
Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question:
What makes a hero?
The Violent Century is a book that I’ve been eyeing for quite a while. However, it took the library an insane amount of time to actually get it, which was amazingly frustrating for me. The other day I noticed the library’s Overdrive (online) system had the audiobook, so I downloaded it. I got through about four hours of it at work before the copy I had downloaded started skipping, and oh, that was the most frustrating thing ever. I was SO INTO this book, and all the sudden the copy I had just STOPPED. What a crime!
So I did what any proper bookworm does, and I complained to the gods at Overdrive that their audiobook copy sucked. After about two days they fixed it, and I picked up where I left off. I devoured this book and didn’t stop until it was over.
The Violent Century really isn’t a book that I’d typically want to read. Superheroes really don’t do it for me. However, I’ve never read a book by Lavie Tidhar before, and once I started I was so sucked in by the high quality of the prose and the story being told, I realized that I’d never be able to stop.
The Violent Century takes some time to get used to, as the timeline switches between now and various points of history. Once you get used to that, it’s pretty easy to see how all the pieces fall together, and the story is even more compelling for the timeline jumps. This book feels like a puzzle, and the way Tidhar tells it just underscores that fact. Readers are putting together pieces of the past to paint a vivid picture of the present, and it’s absolutely illuminating. It’s interesting to see how some seemingly small (and large) events years gone by directly impact who and how a person is in their modern age.
This is a superhero tale, the becoming of a superhero, and what makes a hero a hero. This important question is asked over and over again against a backdrop of moral ambiguity, set in the brutality of World War II (and a few other conflicts), Tidhar doesn’t shy away from making his readers uncomfortable, or showing them the darkness of that time period and how it personally impacts many of those who were involved in it.
More than that, Tidhar’s characters, though they might be superheroes, are achingly human. They are flawed, full of drives and desires, powerful and absolutely human emotions. This makes the impact of the moral ambiguity that much more powerful. What makes a superhero, when said superhero obviously lacks an important emotion like mercy? Can superheroes lack mercy? And this question is even more clouded by the World War II, and all of the darkness and discomfort involved in it.
The Violent Century is full of action and adventure, and edge-of-your-seat tension. Things slowly unfold, and the questions that Tidhar asks his readers become more and more powerful as they go. Various locations throughout Europe are explored, and more than just our two superheroes of Fogg and Oblivion are addressed. Each are just as compelling as the others, and tend to broaden the landscape as much as our protagonists various travels broadens the landscape.
The Violent Century is rather unreal, but unreal in the best possible sense. This is one of those books that is both entertaining, and enlightening at the same time. It takes a bit of time to get used to how Tidhar tells the story, but once you’re used to that, the power of the narrative will gut punch you. The characters are flawed, and the alternative history is captivating. In fact, I can’t really think of any ways that this book didn’t work.
This was my first book written by Lavie Tidhar. It managed to just make me hungry for more. If all of his books are written this well, and ask such important questions, then I think this is an author I need to read more of right away.
P.S. Also, just to inform you, the audiobook was amazing. Narrated by Jonathan Keeble, this is probably one of the most entertaining, high quality audiobook productions I’ve listened to yet. Keeble nails it.