From the mind of Matt Forbeck, and written as part of a twelve books in twelve months programme he ran for himself, Hard times tells the story of ex-adventurer Max Gibson, no not that one , who lives in the titular city where zombies claw at the walls, Elves literally look down on the rest of the intelligent races, by privy of living higher up the mountain than they and the whole thing is overseen by their ruler, a literal dragon. So how does a comic book writer handle a noir private dick in a simple world of swords and socery?
In fact the whole world presented in the book is rich and fleshed out in fun and interesting ways that are never lingered on or spoon fed to in long dry bouts of exposition. It feels like a logical step for the more meta aware fantasies running at the moment like World of Warcraft and their ilk. It is a time where swords are still worn but the practicality of a good gun is making it the favoured weapon of choice. When wizards are known to walk amongst them many seemed to have bothered to pick up few spells here and there and carry their wands in quick draw holsters just in case. The magic itself is diverse and colourfull but never seems to overpower the character or beat him down too hard likewise. Instead its used well and measured out without ever leaving the reader to question, if he could do X, why not just do Y and be done with the story? It’s a world where delving through old tombs can give the right mind enough money to set themselves up and live quite comfortably instead of enforcing the old ‘Fafhard and the Grey Mouser’ system where everything must be drunk away before the next book in case things ever got dull. Though the book does indeed surround its city with hoards of zombies they do not play a large part in the story and when they do, they could probably be substituted for wargs or gelatinous cubes, though I reckon the mental image will be somewhat diminished. However it remains to be seen if their role will become more important as the trilogy progresses.
We open to Max finding that the family of an old adventuring buddy has just been brutally murdered by a very skilled sword. Working only nominally with and often directly against the “chief of police” Yabair, Max sets out to find out what happened and why. His quest will lead to many of his old adventuring party, some of which have fared better in their new lives than others. The city itself stands upon a mountain with the richest at the top and the poorest at the bottom with the logic that should the hoards at the gates ever get in the poor can provide an effective meat shield for the upper-class until the problem is rectified. The story seems to nicely move Max up and down the slope giving us a good look at the world around us without feeling like a fantasy tour book.
As you might be able to tell from the description of the book, the title or the banner “Shotguns and sorcery” this book is about as pulpy and trashy as they come and I’ve got to say I really enjoyed it. The dialogue is quick witted, the pace fast and furious and each of the characters feels fleshed out enough so the city does not feel as though it is filled with a drove of cardboard cut outs. Everyone seems to have their own lives outside of Max’s that bleeds nicely into the world around them.
It’s a short book that does not outstay its welcome; however we do not end up with a “Brewing storm” situation though this does not mean it feels like a whole novel cut into parts. Though much is set up in this book which I assume will be played with in the two follow ups this is indeed a full story if a short one.
Hard Times is currently available from Amazon for £3.12