Okay…this one was a bit wonky. I bought this book simply on Dan Abnett’s name. I did not do any research. This was a mistake.
Fiefdom is an ages-later sequel to a 2006 and later 2008 graphic novel he wrote for 2000 AD (Ah it’s a 2k assault) called Kingdom, and while knowledge of one is not necessary to enjoy the other, things would have made a lot more sense. Like the bi-pedal talking dogs. And the gigantic killer worms. And the very serious lack of physical description or explanation of any of these things.
I should probably explain: Fiefdom is centered around several packs of Aux, the aforementioned bi-pedal canines that were (apparently) genetically modified by the last humans (called the Masters) to watch over the world while what was left of mankind slept through a new ice age. They’re living in the subway tunnels of Berlin, Germany, by the way. During the course of the novel, the world begins to heat up, resurrecting the aforementioned gigantic killer worms, referred to as Them.
The weird part was the repeated reference to a mythical Aux from the past called Gene the Hackman (I’ll get to that in a minute), who apparently was very good at killing Them. It was all very meta and confusing until I used the magic Google and found out this was a sequel to Kingdom. Then it was annoying, because I read everything out of order.
Back to Gene the Hackman: as a literary nerd, it was cool to see the Aux were by and large named after literary and historical figures, both fictional and non-fictional, with a canine twist: There’s the fierce beta dam Dorothy Barker, the Alpha-dog shaman Atticus Flinch, the hulking Alpha Ezra Pound, the wily youth Ben Gun, The stoic scrapper Oscar so Wild, and the main protagonist Evelyn War (think Evelyn Waugh). This literary spark was enough to make me want new characters just so I could see what their names were. Also, it made the characters feel a bit more dog-like than human (I’d totally name a dog after any of these characters in a heartbeat).
The cool names and the interesting concept kept me reading through the first half of the book, albeit in a confused and somewhat-muddling manner. More than once I said to myself Dan what the f*** are you going for here? When you get to the fighting though, all the doubt and muddle goes out the window. With the usual flair, Abnett describes even the bizarre dog vs. worm battles in deep detail at a breakneck pace. You don’t have time to think about the weirdness of the setting.
The interactions between the Aux is also very dog-like. Their speech is broken, repetitious, and rudimentary, but their dialogue is executed in such a way that it feels authentic and tangible. I don’t know what human-hybrid dogs in the future would sound like, but I imagine it wouldn’t be perfect English. The speech isn’t distracting; quite the opposite. It’s not the accent but the diction that makes it primitive but accurate for the reader. The speech is also coupled with an emphasis on non-verbal cues, like an Alpha straightening and puffing out its chest, or pack turning their backs and refusing to look at another Aux for fear of being associated with them. The narration is consistent with this basic but effective approach, helping enhance the atmosphere.
Overall, this one was a little weird and confusing at the start, but it wrapped up well. Now I definitely want to read Kingdom so half this stuff makes sense.
8 out of 10 Milk-Bones. Just because I’ve always wondered what they taste like…and I dropped the first one.