Thursday, August 23, 2012

Walker, by Michael Langlois

So I actually started out really liking this book, despite it being kind of cliched. I've read a couple of other books that shared the concept of people who could travel between worlds through some sort of inherent ability. I guess I just really like the concept and enjoy the different directions people take with the concept. The problem was about halfway through the book I realized that there was something horribly, horribly wrong with the book and it got worse from there. I'm even willing to go ahead and say I was a little offended by this book because of its extremely unfortunate use of inherently bad tropes.

The story begins with our protagonist, Daniel Thorten, an ordinary schmuck like us in St. Louis who's trying to work at his job and pay for his mom's medical bills. Daniel soon discovers, though, that he has the ability to walk between worlds and is recruited by a mysterious organization known only as the Guild. With the Guild Daniel can develop his powers, pay his mom's medical bills, and see fascinating new worlds, but the Guild is not as benevolent as they initially appear and their internal struggles may mean Daniel may not live long enough to enjoy that half-million paycheck.

Before I get into the issues that made me really hate this book I want to talk about a couple of structural problems which, if the other issues had not been present, would have made this an okay but not great book for me. The first problem was Daniel's ever-increasing power levels throughout the book; initially we are told that Daniel is a Walker, someone who has the ability to travel through the Veil and reach other worlds. This is different from Channelers, who use the Veil to become incredibly strong and serve as bodyguards for the Walkers, and Wayguides who are able to establish psychic beacons that let Walkers reach different worlds. And I would have been fine with Daniel being a really good Walker because there'd still be some limit on what he could do. Unfortunately it turns out that Daniel is a member of the very small portion of the population that can do all three who make up the ruling Council of the Guild, and if that wasn't overpowered enough, it turns out Daniel has such a mastery of the Veil that he can become more powerful that the Guild leaders with time. And I really didn't want to read a game of "Anything you can do, I can do better." If I really want to suffer through that I'll go play a non-tier one in 3.5 of Dungeons & Dragons. I really thought Daniel could have benefited from being less overpowered.

My other big issue was the pacing of this novel. Walker starts out at break-neck speed and we aren't really given a chance to catch our breath at any point in the novel. In some cases that can be really good for a book, such as if the characters are racing against time themselves and it helps to convey the urgency of the situation. Walker simply doesn't have that urgency and is more about wheels-within-wheels byzantine plotting rather than fast-paced action. The plot would definitely have benefited from some more time to gradually develop and layer on the intrigue rather than racing straight to the finish.

Mechanical issues aside there are some serious problems with Walker, specifically in the tropes it chooses to use to tell its story. The first problem I want to talk about Daniel's mom and how she was stuffed into a refrigerator, metaphorically. For my readers who don't know, "Stuffed Into the Fridge" is a trope in which loved ones of the protagonist are killed in a particularly gruesome way and left for the protagonist to find. Normally this motivates the hero to avenge his loved ones and can be a useful plot device, unfortunately it is almost always women who get killed and motivate male heroes to take action. (Unfortunately many of the women are also forgotten almost immediately.) The reason I bring this up is because Daniel's mother, who if she had a name I don't remember it being mentioned in the book, is killed by the Guild and Daniel finds out about three-quarters of the way through the book which further motivates his desire for revenge against the Guild. It's just a cheap shot by Langlois to make the Guild seem more evil when there have already been countless examples that prove they're evil enough already. It's a cheap emotional shot meant to tug on our heartstrings, it's poorly executed, and the book would have been much better without it.

The other big issue I had with the book was the character Iyah and her backstory. Iyah is an extremely powerful Channeler and occupies a very important position in the Guild. Tossing a solid oak table through a wall is no problem for her, and she's wicked deadly in a fight so I really liked her as a character. The problem I had, though, was her backstory and the use of rape within it.  You see, there was this unfortunate trope that started sometime around the 90's in which a Strong, Independent Woman (TM) was tough and no-nonsense. Almost always the female charcter was that way because of some sort of abuse in the past, whether sexual or emotional, which in some twisted way "taught" her to be strong. This is exactly the case with Iyah who was in an extremely abusive relationship before joining the Guild and it is stated by characters that this is why she became so tough. Quite frankly I find it offensive that a woman has to go through emotional and/or physical abuse to become a tough person and it perpetuates an awful stereotype. Furthermore Iyah is almost gang-raped in the novel and it's up to our hero, Daniel, to save her because she can't save herself. I know the book had something resembling a reasonable explanation, but it carried extremely unfortunate consequences.

Overall this book would have been okay in spite of its mechanical defects but there's much more to Walker than just those issues. This book carries two extremely unfortunate tropes that are downright offensive from a feminist viewpoint. I really would not recommend any of my readers look at this book and instead go read something more interesting.

- Kalpar

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