Review: Age of Shiva / Author: James Lovegrove / Publisher: Solaris Books / Release Date: April 10th
James Lovegrove’s Godpunk series has been consistently fresh, interesting and exciting so far. The standalone novels each deal with a particular pantheon of gods brought into the modern day. Lovegrove blends the mundane with the magical and stays a step beyond the usual urban fantasy fare by simply using the premise of gods walking amongst as one of many elements, rather than relying on centuries old legends to carry a novel. Age of Shiva continues in this fine tradition by mixing the ten avatars of Vishnu with the thoroughly modern concept of superhero teams.
The tale is narrated by an interesting character called Zak Zap (known as Zachary Bramwell to his mum). Zak is a comic book artist who gets forcibly invited to work for a trinity of billionaires in a mysterious complex in the Maldives. To his delight and surprise, he gets the job as the lead costume designer for a superhero team based on the Hindu faith. As this is a world much like ours, you can imagine that someone who draws funny books for a living is more than a little bit suspicious of the whole set-up and wackiness ensues.
Zak is a very sympathetic and witty sort of chap, and the author uses him as an excuse to litter the book with fun little pop culture references. Everything from the Hulk to Watchmen gets a nod and the book is littered with amusing footnotes. Whereas Age of Voodoo was a spy thriller with supernatural elements and Age of Satan was a whistle-stop tour through classic British horror movies, Age of Shiva is a love poem to both comic books and the Hindu faith. The core idea (the Dashavatara as the inspiration for a superhero team) works really, really well and Lovegrove has clearly made a careful study of the rich lore surrounding them. The narrative is careful not to alienate those who don’t know their Vamana from their Varaha and one of the key characters of the story also doubles as a handy source of cultural knowledge.
As always, Lovegrove’s style is easy going and draws you in quickly. As the tale is told by a very unreliable narrator, there’s plenty of room for the reader's imagination to soar between the gaps and this adds a further comic book feel to the entire affair. The tale does suffer from feeling like it could go on for a lot longer than it does and those more familiar with Indian mythology may see one or two of the twists and turns coming. Overall though, this is a fine addition to one of the best series in urban fantasy available today.