The Midnight Front

After Ian Tregillis' excellent Milkweed Triptych trilogy and Kay Kenyon's compelling Dark Talents series, which both combine magic and World War II, comes David Mack's Dark Arts sequence. And although the premise was similar to those of the other series, I was nevertheless intrigued by The Midnight Front and decided to give it a shot.

Sadly, though Mack's worldbuilding was well-done, this novel wasn't as captivating as the Tregillis or Kenyon books. There is definitely room for improvement in the upcoming sequel, The Iron Codex, yet there is no denying that the opening chapter of the Dark Arts wasn't as interesting as Bitter Seeds and At the Table of Wolves turned out to be.

Here's the blurb:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front—the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program—and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first—his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick—Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul—and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

This is an alternate history novel, and David Mack managed to integrate the magical elements of his tale with the important historical details of that period. The author did a great job depicting the atrocities committed during World War II. The Midnight Front covers the six years of the war and takes readers across Europe, from occupied France, to the Auschwitz extermination camp, and to the heart of Nazi Germany. Mack came up with a new magical system in which the practitioners, called karcists, can summon and harness demons from Hell and their powers. The same can be done with angels, but the process is more difficult. These rituals and their repercussions were quite interesting, but too many scenes were only meant to show the protagonists blow stuff up. There were also countless massive info-dumps pertaining to how the magic works and these bogged down the narrative in many a chapter. I understand that Mack needed to convey the information to his readers, but I wish he could have found a way to do it in a more seamless fashion. Such scenes got in the way of the storytelling time and time again, and that definitely took something out of the overall reading experience.

The characterization left a lot to be desired and was the aspect that prevented me from fully enjoying this book. The old trope of the Chosen One was taken up a few notches too far with Cade Martin. And as the central protagonist of The Midnight Front, I just couldn't connect with him. The author made him dense and stubborn to compensate, but that did not quite work. The same could be said of Adair MacRae, the novel's badass alcoholic Gandalf analog. Other than complaining non-stop using old British slang from the 40s and the 50s, the sorcerer's main task was to train Cade before all is lost. His backstory was fascinating, but I felt that his characterization fell rather flat. Stefan and Niko were more likeable, true, but acted in decidedly stupid ways when the fate of mankind was at stake. Anja Kernova was by far the most engaging protagonist of the bunch, yet Mack was unable to make her really shine through. Another problem was the fact that Kein Engel and his acolytes were often depicted as generic bad guys with no substance.

The pace can be very uneven. At times, the rhythm can drag dreadfully. Especially when you get caught up in a chapter featuring one of those huge info-dumps, or an action sequence showcasing Cade and the others duking it out with inferior German karcists. David Mack has a cinematographic eye for detail when it comes to battle scenes and I have a feeling that some readers might enjoy those magical showdowns a lot more than I did. And yet, there is no denying that if you take away all those battles, in the end The Midnight Front has little else to offer. On the other hand, sometimes everything was rushed for no apparent reason.

Still, the endgame and the finale were exciting enough. Mack tied everything up a little too neatly for my liking, but I still might read The Iron Codex when it gets published. The sequel will deal with the Cold War and I'm curious to see if the author can elevate his game and avoid the pitfalls that plagued this novel.

Some cool concepts and ideas that were spoiled by poor execution and lackluster characterization; that's The Midnight Front in a nutshell.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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1 commentaires:

Ash said...

Wow that sounds awesome!