Author: Gareth L Powell
Published: Out Now
RRP: Print £5.62 – Kindle £4.86
In 1944, when waves of German Ninja’s parachute into Kent, Britain’s only hope lies with a Spitfire pilot code named ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar chomping, booze swilling, foul mouthed monkey. And he’s starting to doubt everything, even his very existence.
2059 is a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s to form the core of the glorious Commonwealth of Europe and nuclear powered Zeppelins ply the skies. Ex-Journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband, and stole her electronic soul. In Paris, after taking part in an illegal breaking at a research laboratory, the heir to the throne goes on the run, with a self aware cynical talking monkey who wants answers.
And all the while the Doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
Ack-Ack Macaque started life as a short story in the pages of Interzone, the same year it was published the readers of the magazine voted it the year’s best story. The short story is included in this book, allowing the reader to see the evolution of the character and what was kept in and what was taken out.
This book is a story within a story, partly set in an alternative WWII, with Ack-Ack Macaque fighting off hoards of black clad German Ninja warriors. And partly set in 2059, a future with an alternative past to what we know now. The link between the two is the title character. How, you might ask, does the character fit into two time frames 115 years apart? Well that would be giving a little too much away, but let’s put it this way, he does fit in both time frames, and it doesn’t involve any complicated time travel plot.
The move from past to present is deftly done, almost seamless, and allows the character to carry on unchanged. He is assisted in his adventures by a supporting cast that are not what you would expect to be adventurous, danger seekers. Of the bunch the heir to the throne is the most interesting, and because of events shares a common ground with Macaque.
The action is handled well, no-one, except the monkey, is a skilled fighter, and the author manages to put this across well. People are clumsy, they get injured; they make mistakes. This gives the action a more realistic feel for me. Too often in books, TV and films you see an average Joe take on the big bad and become an expert fighter overnight. Here this does not happen.
I nice touch is the inclusion of news items, blog posts, scattered between the chapters, about events happening in the story and in the wider world. It helps build a bigger picture without coming across as info-dumping. It’s also is a nifty way of world building.
If I have one criticism it’s there are a lot of long talky segments in the middle section, talky segments that made the middle drag. I’m not sure if these were put in to bulk the book out to novel length, but for me they seemed superfluous, as several times the conversations were just going over ground that had been covered. As a reader I think of myself as fairly perceptive, I can get the gist of what’s going on without having to be reminded.
All in all this is a rip roaring adventure yarn, with a smattering of steampunk, a smidge of alternative sci-fi and a lead character that seriously kicks-ass.