The Man With the Golden Torc
by Simon R. Green
Cover Artist: Paul Young
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451461452
Date: 05 June 2007 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
You can also read our UK Editor John Berlyne's review of The Man With The Golden Torc which was in our May issue.
Eddie Drood is a man with a mission... and a problem. Part of an ancient family dedicated to protecting humanity from legions of occult horrors, Eddie is the Droods' secret agent/soldier responsible for keeping London safe. He is also a black sheep, known for his disrespect and contempt for the family's hidebound traditions. But he wears the golden torc--source of the family's power--and lives by the oaths they all swear... or does he?
This is The Man with the Golden Torc, a new series by bestselling author Simon R. Green (writer of the Deathstalker and Nightside series, and more). Mixing genres is a hallmark of Green's work; this time, he turns to the world of high-powered and high-stakes espionage applied to Lovecraftian horrors. As to the story itself...
After a mission to a private hospital (one guarded like a fortress), Eddie is summoned to the family estate, where a monstrous attack nearly reaches the family's van-sized Heart--a gemstone which powers their torcs. Eddie and his uncle James manage to thwart the attack, after which Eddie is given a mission by the Droods' ruling Matriarch: take one of the family's most valuable artifacts to a safe holding place.
It seems straightforward and even reasonable, but Eddie is soon the center of attacks so overwhelming (and so well-coordinated) that they cannot be coincidence. Using his torc's primary power to become a sheath of golden armor, Eddie thinks he is safe--until an elf lord's spear pierces his shoulder and inflicts what could be a mortal wound. He discovers that the "artifact" he's carrying is really a radio homing beacon, which means he's been betrayed by the leaders of his family, and his lifespan is probably measurable in minutes.
But Eddie is not one to give up. He wants answers and if his family is off-limits, there are still loads of old enemies who might know a few things-- intriguing folks like the Chelsea Lovers, the Sceneshifters, the Middleman and even a few Droods who (like him) are out of the family business. He teams up with Molly Metcalf, a "wild witch" whose reputation is nearly as fearsome as the Droods. Molly has reasons of her own for helping Eddie, but their relationship soon proves far more complicated than either foresaw.
Eddie soon realizes he will have to plumb his family's darkest secrets and take the fight to their home ground if he's to have any chance of survival. But against an entire army of family, with their techno-magical arsenal and the power of the Heart to boot, does he stand a chance?
Simon Green has created another formidable anti-hero in Eddie Drood, wielding sardonic one-liners and attitude that smack more of James Bond (in a scruffy, streetside way) than Green's John Taylor (who owes more to the world-weary private eye than the superspy). Eddie is just as snarky and anti-authoritarian, but his motives stem from a misplaced belief in his family rather than a personal code of honor--and that makes a considerable difference in how they view the world. Similarly, Molly is more complex than the one-note character she might have become in lesser hands; her growing respect for Eddie informs her actions in interesting ways as the story progresses.
The Droods represent a cabal of powerful figures operating in the shadows. Where such a group might have been assumed to be essentially benevolent in the '60s, Green gives them less deference from the start; their deeds seem to be in the service of mankind but troubling factors crop up as Eddie learns more. Who do the Droods really serve, and can anyone be trusted with the power they wield? Even though there are genuine heroes in their number, like James and Jacob, it is clear that many are corrupted by power or by the burden they carry. Even the villains--who make perfect sense, once the pieces come together at the end--have a reasonable motive for their deeds, although the consequences will inevitably spin out of their control.
The Man with the Golden Torc invites comparison not only with its namesake James Bond novel, but also with a handful of other literary efforts. One of these is WetWorks, the WildStorm comic title wherein the heroes wear a sheath of living golden armor. Similar to Torc, the armor is not exactly what it seems; one ongoing issue in the series is the price of power, which is a theme here as well.
Another point of comparison would be Charles Stross' novels, The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue. Especially in the latter, Stross cross-pollinates Bondian super-espionage with Lovecraftian horrors from the ocean depths, complete with megalomaniacal villain, "weird tech" gadgets and outre plot twists. Green's work holds up well in comparison to both, though the flavor of Green's book is decidedly more tongue-in-cheek than either.
Green launches another strong contemporary fantasy series with Torc. Fans of high-speed urban fantasy with a smart-aleck hero, fighting impossible odds, are sure to enjoy it.