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Rec: Chanson Noir by Nathan Crowder

Angel’s Adjectives: Moody and Monstrous

CHANSON NOIR is the first in a series of books that take place in fictional Cobalt City, in a world where superheroes and supervillains make life interesting. There is no one main character, but rather numerous, all with super powers.

The story is a heart-pumping race through the blackest layers of the multiverse. Despite the decidedly “cape and cowl” costumes of some of the characters, Crowder reveals the skin, heart, and soul shielded inside their facades. Filled to brimming with troubled superheroes battling enemies both within and outside themselves, the pages practically turn themselves. The story starts in the fictional metropolis of Cobalt City and takes you across dimensional boundaries to decimated alternate universes where the Queen of the Black Sigh has already spread her putrescence. The fights are epic, and the superhumanity poignant.

I’m not usually drawn to spandex and capes, but this book has a vast and bloody smear of horror running through it that I found appealing. It moves along at an alarming pace that made it extremely hard to put down. Nathan Crowder is definitely establishing himself as an author with a searing imagination and a knack for adventure writing that’s above average.

What can a writer learn from reading this book?

  1. Not all stories need to be told from a single perspective. Crowder uses multiple points of view with such agility that you don’t even notice. Not once did I wonder whose head I was in or have to turn back pages to figure out when the PoV had switched, as I’ve had to do in other novels that attempted the same thing. Each of the characters is so unique, and Crowder works the transitions between characters by always ensuring that it’s clear whose PoV we’ve entered. He efficiently uses a third-person limited PoV.
  2. An adventure story should be about adventure more than about interpersonal drama. Crowder puts the reader on the train to mystery, excitement, and adventure; and he doesn’t get us too bogged down in interpersonal drama. That’s not to say there is none. It’s there, between the lines, in the dialogue; but it does not weigh down the story or stall it. The interpersonal drama is salted into the cracks, giving you the impression that these people really do have far more important things on their minds than who might sleep with whom. Their humanity almost sneaks up on you, and suddenly, you realize that you’re thinking of them not as superheroes, distant and alien, but as people with worries to which you can relate and who also have super powers.
  3. When creating superheroes, it seems important to avoid the standard tropes, and yet, it’s nice to have some familiar archetypes that make the story feel like home. For example, Wild Kat is a typical cat woman. She doesn’t stray far from that superhero archetype, and that makes her likeable. We all love the cat woman theme. On the other hand, Mr. Grey is a man made up of ash–the ash from his own cremation. He is my favorite character in the book, and he has some of the most interesting moments in the spotlight. I suspect he may be Crowder’s favorite as well.
  4. Horror and superheroes do mix. We’ve had many examples of this in comic books, and I just want to reiterate it. Crowder put his characters in some gruesome situations, terrifying them and me. I feel he could have cranked up the dread even more, but that’s just me. It’s difficult to make a superhero know fear. Part of their job is to never let you see them sweat.

Please do read this book and all the others that follow it in this universe. It’s becoming quite an event, with multiple-author, shared-world anthologies available and several core novels to support the material. You’ll be seeing Nathan Crowder’s name in ever-expanding circles in the next few years. Mark my words.

From the Timid Pirate Publishing site:

The Protectorate saga begins here! There are other worlds besides our own, stacked in an unfolding coil of possibilities. The Queen of the Black Sigh rules over her own world as the timeless avatar of physical decay. But her palace is also her prison, for the artifact she needs to breach the veil between worlds has been lost to the ages. If someone were to uncover her Obsidian Mirror, the gateway would be open to her, and countless realities would fall before her insatiable hunger. And when the mirror is uncovered, it falls to The Protectorate, heroes of Cobalt City to stop her.

From the back of the book:

Join the blazing might of Stardust, the fury of the seductive Wild Kat, the strength of noble Knockabout, the mysterious dead man Mister Grey, the myriad of wonder that is the Worm Queen, and the incomparable skill and legacy of the Huntsman as they challenge the near god-like power of the Queen of the Black Sigh. And if they fail, countless universes will perish.

Buy your copy at the Timid Pirate Bookstore, when it comes out.

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