Comic artist turns fine fantasy writer
AUTHOR: Liam Sharp
PUBLISHER Mam Tor Publishing – 304 pages - £8.99
ISBN: 978-0-9549998-6-5 – Out: April 10
Comic artist shifts job description to comic writer is a well-trodden path. Comic artists are, after all, visual storytellers. Comic artist becomes fantasy novelist however, is a far more unusual tangent. If you’ve been a fan of Liam Sharp’s Frank Frazetta meets HR Giger-esque comic art – muscled barbarians mixed with Blade Runner neon and detritus-swept colour schemes - you’ll know that this is a creator with a distinct vision, dedicated to creating tangible other worlds. God Killers is Sharp fleshing these fantasy landscapes out, giving them detail and life.
It’s something he does remarkably well. The main strength of the prose and poetry collection God Killers, and its near 200 page central story, Machivarius Point, is how fully formed Sharp’s fantasy feels. The different races, the descriptions of the architecture, the history of its worlds – Sharp’s commits them with great confidence. God Killers does that most difficult thing in fantasy fiction. It absorbs its influences –China Mieville (who offers a praising cover quote and gave advice on the proof), Lovecraft and M John Harrison – but feels like a personal, unaffected realisation nonetheless.
That same strength is also its relatively minor weakness. Sharp sometimes gets caught up in descriptive passages when the plot should move on. He knows how to tease a reader though – Hergal, his warrior central character (a healthily macho, sword-skilled protagonist) travels across other worlds and inhabits other lives but can’t recall why, and Sharp is skilfully economic in how he reveals the truth. When the finale comes it’s suitably epic, dealing with eternity, nothingness and ‘vile space’. It would be too easy to describe God Killers as a promising debut. Sharp writes fantasy with the assurance of an otherworld-seeing prophet.
I think God Killers can best be described as heavy metal fantasy. It has that particular blend of violence, sex, decaying civilizations and lashings of DOOM that remind you of early Moorcock and Métal Hurlant. China described it as “muscular” and “melancholy”, which pretty much fits the bill.
The first time I saw Liam Sharp´s name, I must say that rang a bell, but I couldn´quite remember from where. A couple of days later, I was re-reading an old issue of Warren Ellis´s Global Frequency and then I found out. Sharp did the inks of issue 3 - not only that (he also did, among many other comics and film-related projects, the production design for Lost in Space (a film I like a lot, even though it is unfairly underrated) and the character design for Batman Beyond.
Then I learned, from an e-mail from Liam himself (in which he sent me a story that was selected for publishing in the special English edition of TERRA INCOGNITA webzine due to late December) that he had just written a novel: God Killers - Macchivarius Point and other stories. After reading his short story, I became very interested in reading the novel, and asked him if he could send an ARC. I´ve got it a week later. And I wasn´t disappointed.
The first story, the novel Machivarius Point, starts with a bang - we are immediately presented to a Conan-like universe that quickly turns out to be more like Robert Silverberg´s Majipoor stories. In the planet Arddn, Hergal Ban Egan returns after living decades in the body of an avatar in another world of the Kiazmus, a kind of bridge that links all the parallel worlds Sharp´s weird multiverse.
Upon returning, Hergal meets an old friend, Pellafinn, a member of the giant race of the Ornish. And he learns that a Warlordt called The Wayfarer, also a Warloq, threatens to conquer Aetuland by means of a gemstone that can invoke the power of the Munger, the Undead God. And he must be stopped.
Naturally, there´s much more than meets the eye in this plot, for it is no such simple deed as it may seem at a first glance. Pellafinn hires a group of mercenaries to impede the Wayfarer´s progress, apparently to no avail. But the survivors of this band, like the Ornish Pellaq, the rogue giantess Cherry Longorn, the human Woebeg ban Errieu (a no-nonsense man who doesn´t believe in magiq even when it´s right in front of him), carry inside each a secret, unknown even to themselves, that may change the course of this conflict.
Echoes of China Miéville, Robert Howard, and Michael Moorcock abound in Machivarius Point, but this novel isn´t an imitation. Sharp weaves a complex tapestry - rough at some points, at others threating to fray in the edges, but never unraveling into narrative chaos. The only complain I could make of the novel is that it is too short (less than 200 pages). I´m not asking for a Robert Jordan-like epic, though - it´s just that I think Sharp could develop the story and his very compelling characters more completely. The narrative is good and coherent, but the story ends too quickly, leaving a sort of straight to the point, no-nonsense "Old Weird" flavor.
The last part of the book, God Killers, is what I would call "The Derby Cycle". It is composed by five stories, all short ones and Earth-based, all of them in Derby, England. The most interesting to me was the first one, Metawhal Alpha, based in Lovecraftian lore with a clever approach for the 21st Century. Death and the Myrmidon is a funny story featuring Death himself, plus several supernatural characters, drinking heavily and having a good time, mostly. It reminded me a little of Rhys Hughes, but sort of disappointed me in the end, because it is very, very short. The next story, Amongst the Trees, caused the same feeling in me. On the other side, Fluxium is a real treat: a story of academia and of how intellectual minds would probably deal with the concepts of strange creatures and another dimensions. The last story, Frogspawn, is a horror tale bordering Clive Barker´s splatterpunk stories of the 80s, with undead people and frogs.
I, for one, wanted to know more about the parallel world of Arddn, the Orns, the body-change travels of the warloqs, and, of course, Lazrus Machivarius, the Leonardo of Arnnd, the scientist who first learned to harness eletricity and other energies.
It was then that I found a small excerpt of Caged Aurora, the first novel of an upcoming series set on Arddn. Even though it´s a five-page fragment, it somehow made me feel better, because now I know there will be more stories to help weaving this strange tapestries better.