I have for you today another one of Baruch Speiser's fantastic book reviews. I always appreciate it when Baruch is able to read and review some of the books that I just don't have the time to get to myself, even if I am slightly jealous that he does it so much better than I do.
I do intend to eventually read Blue Fall myself since the story sounds interesting and I really like the cover (it's a very attractive shade of blue). But in the meantime here is Baruch with his thoughts on Blue Fall...
Blue Fall (The Tournament, Book One) by B. B. Griffith
Reviewed by Baruch Speiser
In the shady, international conspiracy to run the world, unknown and un-described entities of considerable power and influence bet on a gladiatorial tournament. This secret contest, known only to those involved, is called nothing more than “The Tournament”. Eight teams of three are paired up in a classic winner-takes-all style, each match completed when all three team members of a given side have been defeated. Entire country’s futures can hang on the balance of this high-stakes game of gunfire rivalries. All of which threatens to be exposed and unraveled because of a doggedly persistent claims adjuster, who wonders why some random scientist died days after his company increased his life insurance policy into the millions.
And that, my friends, is about as exciting as I can make this book sound.
Blue Fall is an exercise in patience. The story takes some time to get started. The characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional, bland, and genuinely uninteresting. The writing is alright, but it is not the pinnacle of eloquence, either – in between the action scenes, his prose and dialogue are straightforward and plebian yet still winding; as it lacks sharpness or any kind of cutting edge to it. Villains are villainous, morons are moronic, schlubs are schlubby, and egotistical self-centered movie-star types are, well, exactly as I just described. There are a few characters that were more likable than others – I found myself curious to know more about Piper, given that she is the only female in charge of a team; and Locke is a curiously interesting courier – but mostly the characters are forgettable. To make matters worse, most of the character’s threads are never really resolved, either – making this book seem far longer than it needed to be. We don’t even get to read about how the claims adjuster, Frank Youngsmith, was able to unearth so much about the Tournament. Last we hear from him, he hit a dead end; all of a sudden the Tournament Organizer, Greer, is being told about how Frank is a persistent loser with no life other than digging up dirt and now he knows too much.
This and other flaws in this book are hard to avoid. We never learn much about The Tournament, why and how it was created, how they pick their teams, and why uber-important people care who wins. (I can’t see why anyone would care.) The most glaring, though, was the choice of national casting: the eight teams in contention are the United States, England, Russia, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Ireland.
Huh? What about China? For a book that aims to hang world events on a bunch of people running around and shooting each other for the heck of it – yet China isn’t one of the participating teams? I’ve got nothing against Mexico or Ireland, but China dwarfs them in global influence thirty times over. At least if Griffith had used Germany and Canada, then he would have the G8 – but Mexico and Ireland? China, India, Australia, or Saudi Arabia would have seemed like better choices. I liked the Ireland team and the Mexico team was kind of personable, but China and Saudi Arabia could have given this book a completely different sociopolitical edge.
For a “game” where people shoot each other, dying isn’t really part of the equation; which seems like a complete cop-out from real drama. The mechanics are as follows: teams are armed with guns loaded with “diodes” instead of bullets. Getting hit with a diode doesn’t kill you, it just knocks you out with a massive electrical pulse. So we have a bunch of people running around shooting guns, but nobody dies – which is preposterous. If you fire any solid-state material out of a gun at someone’s skull from a range of three feet, it will kill them. Even Javier Barden showed us in No Country for Old Men what happens when you fire plain air that fast – I don’t care what’s inside that bullet, lead or diode juice or happy plasma sparklies, people die from gunshots at point-blank ranges. That’s not to say that there aren’t consequences – one team member shot three times in the head ends up pretty seriously disabled – but it struck me as odd that none of these matches are intended to be a battle to the death.
Now, I will credit Griffith with this: once you get past the flaws and the action starts, the book begins to sizzle. His gunfire scenes are excellent. He describes the panic and chaos on Japan’s trains with vibrant excitement. A hailstorm of bullets flying through a nightclub shoot-‘em-out is well done, with vivid imagination and an uncanny knack for making the reader feel like they’re in on the action. Gun-toting assailants storming a traffic-laden highway under a slick sheet of rain and darkness make for tense times, and a siege in Mexico gets downright nasty. For most authors, a firefight on an airplane would be a gutsy move, Griffith does this well. It is these action scenes – among others – that keep this book afloat.
In addition, Blue Fall has one hell of a bombshell ending, setting up for an explosive sequel. It is definitely a dive into the unexpected – and even if a reader wasn’t enthralled by Book One, I wouldn’t be surprised if they felt compelled enough to jump into Book Two. Endings that demand you follow after them are usually signs of great things to come.
In summation, I thought Blue Fall was an okay read. It starts slow and plods for a while, and the characters or more or less throwaway – but it’s got some pretty decent action and an ending that commands your attention. Yet the series is based on an interesting idea, and it has a lot of potential. Hopefully, Book Two will eschew the introductions and get right into the action – and if it does, then it will probably be a wild ride.