Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Across The Dark Metropolis - Michael de Larrabeiti

This final volume of the Borrible trilogy is the darkest of the books. It picks up on the quest begun in the second book and through a series of hair-raising adventures with plenty of new friends and enemies, exposing the filthy underbelly of adult society as it goes, it roars along to its terrifying climax.

The world of the Borribles, precarious at the best of times on the fringes of society, is systematically picked apart by the relentless persecution of the SBG. Recruited along with this dark force – all the darker for being based on a very real and very sinister police group – are those manipulated through their greed for money and power. It is a realistic study of how powerful elites manipulate others to do their dirty work.

As well as exposing the darker side of adult society, the journey is one in which the Borribles learn to re-assert their old anarchic values. This is anarchy in its true sense, not the propagandist version put out by the likes of the SBG or played at by bored rich kids, but the one in which people work together to assert certain basic values such as respect, freedom, responsibility, and honour.

But as I have said before, the Borrible books are not political polemics. They are rattling good adventures with exquisitely drawn characters who learn from their experiences and who grow.

Through simple story telling with great characters, Michael de Larrabeiti has created a set of books for which the word classic might have been invented. Well-written, fluent, exciting, and gritty, they still have the ability to shock with the realism of the violence – which is probably why they have remained a cult classic. Yet the violence here is shocking because it is realistic. People get hurt; the vulnerable are abused by the powerful. There is no rewind button. You cannot play that level again because you got killed. To me, those are the more shocking approaches to violence – switch off the screen and walk away. No involvement, no emotional investment, just adrenalin rush.

Not many books (and even fewer fantasy novels) have convincing villains. They are often over-played and cartoonish, twirling their moustaches and cooking up random acts of naughtiness which the hero will inevitably foil. But in Sussworth, we have a genuinely evil character. He is, of course, a caricature, but only just. Given what we now know about the mental state of some senior police officers, the increasingly unhinged messianism of Sussworth could be seen as prophetic.

Not many books move me to tears, especially on a re-read when I know what is going to happen (although knowing made some of it all the more poignant). I certainly don’t find sugary sentimentality of the type so prevalent in US TV shows, or being told what to feel does it for me. But these books are involving. The Adventurers become friends and it is difficult not to feel for their plight, especially in the darkest moments toward the end. Yet it is also a book which ends on a positive note, one of hope, one of strength.