Review: Transformers - Exiles / Author: Alex Irvine / Publisher: Titan Books / Released: Out now
First thing's first, I am a child of the Transformers generation. It still, after almost 25 years of my life, maintains its role as one of my favourite franchises of all time. For years, I have been gripped by the never-ending battle between Optimus Prime’s Autobots and Megatron’s Decipticons whether it be as the popular cartoon series or, more recently, through the Michael Bay blockbuster big-screen adaptations. So I couldn’t pass up the chance of reviewing Alex Irvine’s Transformers: Exiles, the follow-up to Transformers: Exodus, which strips back all the detours the franchise has taken throughout its history and attempts to consolidate the origin story of how this epic battle came into being. This review also makes for a personal challenge for this reviewer in that it involves me putting aside my nostalgic feelings for this much-loved franchise and giving an honest, objective view of this book.
So, to kick things off, the story opens with the Autobots lost in space on their mission to retrieve the AllSpark, the very heart of the planet Cybertron, which could turn the tide of the unwinnable war against the Decepticons. The Autobots’ journey through space sees them discover Velocitron, a colony thought to have been lost to time. The planet itself is habited by the Velocitronians, a society built on and made for speed and the need to go faster and faster. However it is on Velocitron that the Autobots discover a traitor in their midst, a traitor who must be tracked down. That need becomes even more desperate when Megatron and the Decipticons are in hot pursuit of the Autobots. But the real battle is only just beginning...
Transformers: Exiles does its best to appeal to the loyal fan base and succeeds in parts through excellent techniques which help to tell a story that is incredibly epic, almost mythological. The story itself is chronicled by none other than Alpha Trion, one of the original Thirteen and mentor to Optimus Prime. In the five parts he occupies, Alpha Trion acts like a classical Greek chorus, offering insight into the situation the reader has arrived at, and being elusive enough not to spoil the unfolding saga. Alex Irvine is able to develop other aspects of storytelling throughout the book. Even though it’s only touched on briefly, this reader gets the sense that the AllSpark is so precious that it’s almost written as though it were a child that needs protecting; this imagery adds to the urgency of the Autobots’ attempt to recover the AllSpark and return it to Cybertron. Irvine also cleverly writes about Cycles, the unit of time that becomes so elusive that the reader never quite guesses whether it is minutes, hours or even years that it equates to; Irvine uses this detail to establish the Transformers universe as a universe all to itself, which is great for the imagination of any reader.
Irvine’s other examples of epic storytelling come from within the characters themselves. The characterisation of Optimus Prime demonstrates qualities such as his authority, his diplomacy with the Velocitronians, and his compassion for his fellow Autobots. This actually left me surprised as a reader, I saw qualities in Optimus Prime as a character that sometimes get glossed over depending on which interpretation of the franchise you see. Irvine reels the original characteristics into the novel and you remember why he’s the boss! This is complemented by the characteristics of the other Autobots, you get the impression that Perceptor is the dreamer and that Ratchet and Jazz are, in a fashion, the “cool kids” within the Autobots, all of whom look to Optimus as a leader, a relationship which Irvine establishes very well.
However, this novel does have its flaws. One of the problems with the book comes from the sheer volume of Transformers history itself. There are far too many characters in the Transformers universe for the 357 pages of the book to contain! Once you get to grips with who plays a part in whichever side, you have even more characters thrown at you and even the most loyal follower of Transformers can get lost; I can recall one evening when I was reading this book and thinking that Bumblebee (of all characters) was a Velocitronian, and I’m supposed to be a fan!
The other flaw with this book is the clichéd parallel that the book makes to real life. Irvine sets the Velocitronians up as a wasteful society which complains about its “dwindling resources”. As a reader, I simply could not accept that Transformers, this epic franchise set in an entirely different universe, should have been used as a soapbox for an environmental agenda; this is what Captain Planet was for!
In short, I genuinely like Transformers: Exiles. Irvine creates a structure which appeals to the reader to keep reading but at the same time does not feel it necessary to make a massive revelation or plot-twist every ten pages, which can be very difficult especially for a franchise tie-in novel; Alex Irvine respects his loyal readers enough to not make such mistakes. Irvine also does his best in Transformers: Exiles to grasp the origin story of these well-loved characters and franchise. He also uses excellent story telling techniques to create an epic feel to what unfolds, a feel which should always be present in Transformers regardless of which media it appears. With these expectations in mind, it was extremely disappointing to think that possibly Transformers cannot be contained within a book, as the sheer volume of characters sometimes made me lose track of what was going on in what is a well-written book. Also, parallels to the real world (when the real world isn’t being discussed) should have be avoided as it makes the epic story-telling just seem gimmicky otherwise, this spoilt for me what was, overall, a great read.