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The Man With The Golden Torc: Secret Histories Book 1 (Gollancz S.F.) by Simon R. Green
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780575082229
Date: 14 August 2008 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Simon R. Green'e new fantasy adventure sequence opens with The Man with the Golden Torc now released by Gollancz in mass market paperback.

"You know what? It's all true. Everything that ever scared you, from conspiracy theories to monsters under the bed to ghosties & ghoulies & long-leggity beasties. The only reason they haven't taken over the world yet is because my family has always been there to stand in their way. We guard the door, keeping you safe from the big bad wolf, and you never even know our names. Of course, there's a price to be paid. By us, and by you. The username's Bond. Shaman Bond. Licensed to kick supernatural arse. And Bond - real name Eddie Drood - comes from one of the oldest families in England, a family that has been protecting Humanity from the forces of darkness for more centuries than anyone can even remember. And Eddie Drood loved his job - until the day it all blew up in his face ... SECRET HISTORIES is a mix of James Bond and Blade, a fast-paced roller-coaster ride through the dark side."

The enjoyable new series by Deathstalker creator Simon R. Green opens with a novel sporting the transparently borrowed title of The Man with the Golden Torc.

The set up here is a fairly simple one. Protagonist Eddie Drood is a member of a ruling elite that have special powers. The Droods are an ancient family with roots deep in an English culture that stretches back to the Celts. As well as being fabulously wealthy, highly secretive, hugely powerful and obsessively insular, the Drood family are also the planet's protectors, saving the rest of us innocents from myriad threats. They are able to go about this business by virtue of their unique ability to cover themselves with an indestructible shield of moving metal – impenetrable armour that gives the wearer super speed and super strength, a talent bestowed on them via the golden torc they all acquire at birth.

Our man Eddie is something of a rebel though – still fulfilling his secret agent-like duties, but living apart from the bosom of the Drood family, something which they heartily disapprove of. In fact it has been ten years since Eddie last stepped foot in the family home, but having completed his latest mission, he finds himself summoned there for a briefing.

From this point on, Eddie's circumstances take a rapid downward turn, for apparently without reason (it is certainly not apparent to him or to us), the family suddenly declare him "rogue" which basically means he is to be killed on sight. What follows then are Eddie's adventures and attempts to uncover the reasons behind this unfortunate turn of events.

If this sounds familiar to those of you who have read Deathstalker, well it is a bit. A well-to-do privileged chap is outlawed, doesn't know why and spends the novel running away from enemies and trying to track down clues as to his downfall, and along the way, he falls in with various colourful characters. In a nutshell, it's the same plot – clearly a favourite formula of Simon Green's – but , of course, it stands to reason that if you're a fan of Green's previous work, The Man with the Golden Torc will not disappoint you.

On it's own merits, The Man with the Golden Torc is a busy, kitchen sink novel – Green throws a little too much of everything in. The threats to our world that are kept at bay by the Droods are not just demons or aliens or magical elves or mad scientists or strange cults... but all of these factions and every permutation in between, as if Green couldn't decide amongst them and so thought, 'what the hell – let's chuck 'em all in'! This gives our threats a slightly ludicrous aspect, and though I get the impression that this novel is a little tongue-in-cheek, it is clearly not written entirely for comic effect. This notwithstanding, the exotic, often silly antagonists at work here are a lot of fun and thus Green somehow (and I can't work out how he does this) makes me suspend my oh-so-highbrow critics sense of disbelief… so kudos to him, I guess! This additionally allows me to overlook the loose plotting, the convenient coincidences and inventions, the two dimensional characters blatantly introduced only so that they can fulfill some predefined role later on, or (even more transparent) as nothing more than colourful filler (there are a lot of these)…all these things don't really matter in this novel, because of its rough diamond, playful storytelling nature. Who needs such things as internal logic in a story? You won't find it here that's for sure, so better to live without it. Green's style therefore is almost anarchic. He plots without rules, plucking whatever he needs out of his imagination, giving rise to the use of shameless get-out-of-jail plot devices such as the quite outrageous Confuslem!!!

Don't expect a James Bond style thriller on reading The Man With the Golden Torc – the Bond connection is tenuous to say the least – far more of marketing tactic than a genuine homage or pastiche. What you will get is the equivalent of a theme park ride, seat of your pants writing, with larger than life characters and exaggerated situations. You'll step off exhilarated and a little dizzy, but you'll be aware that you had a pretty good time.

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