Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Review: Hollow City, by Kai Wai Cheah

Hollow City (Song of Karma, book 1), by Kai Wai Cheah is the latest in Silver Empire's superhero universe line. While it's been discussed in terms of this version of the Punisher....

This may end up as a Punisher origin story, but our hero is way, WAY too sane to be Frank Castle. The vibe as you read the novel is more Michael Connelly doing a noir superhero novel, with gun porn that outdoes Larry Correia. (No, I'm not exaggerating, and you did not misread that. Gun porn that would make Larry Correia blush).

Six kills in six years.
Super powered cop Adam Song has dedicated his life to the law. In the military and the police force, Adam ruthlessly protects the innocent.

But this time he’s killed the wrong bad guy. Now the local drug lord’s son is dead, and the boss is out for Adam’s blood. Even his secret identity won’t keep him safe. The police department hangs him out to dry, his years of exemplary service forgotten. Adam must take justice into his own hands to keep his family safe.

Because Adam is a Song. And Songs take care of their own. No matter the cost.

When does justice become murder? And just how far will he go to protect his clan?

Dragon and Hugo Award nominated author Kai Wai Cheah steps onto the superhero scene with his debut Heroes Unleashed novel. His characteristic fast-paced action and attention to detail brings Adam Song and the Chinatown of Hollow City vividly to life.

What makes a straight-laced hero cop go rogue? Buy the book or read it in Kindle Unlimited today to find out!
Imagine if Baen did a superhero novel and it was one part Connelly, one part Correia. You've got smart police tactics by a superpowered former soldier as part of a SWAT team, but you also have the problems of the politics of "Primes" (they're not supeheroes or mutants, they're Primes).  It becomes an interesting mix of politics, powers and police. When I reference Michael Connelly, most people should think of his hero, Harry Bosch (yes, now an Amazon Prime show). And the police department in Halo City is very much like the corrupt, politics-ridden (but I repeat myself) legal system of Bosch's LA. It helps with the noir feel of the novel, as it constantly refers to Halo City as the Hollow City, dark, soulless and corrupt....

You know, Chicago.

(Okay, if you're looking for a direct parallel, it's probably if San Francisco were run by Chicago politicians, down to the demographics, and "Grand Park" instead of SF's Grant Park.)

Once again, as with the first book in the series, (Morgon Newquist's "Heroes United") it's a superhero world that feels very real. Screwups are not tolerated, leaving a realistic feel to the narration -- such as referring to an egomaniac "hero" who was going to livestream an arrest... so the criminal set a trap and put three rounds in the sucker's face.  Stupidity is its own death penalty. The politics are realistic enough to make me want to strangle the politicians -- even down to having a Black Lives Matter group that's against Primes. And I love the line "Politics is never personal until it happens to you," I may need to steal it.

And the tactics are solid. The guns are detailed and make sense given the use of force required. The fact that Adam has three guns, as well as a taser, is one of the better carry policies I've seen of a hero in a novel for some time.

The world building is solid. The tactics are great. The character is also well developed. Publicly, Adam Song seems to have the powers of Marvel's Bullseye -- he always hits what he aims for, with preternatural reaction time. That's what everyone else thinks, too. But it goes beyond that, and he has a very simple, straightforward approach to handling everything -- it's handled by the book. I love the byplay between what the public thinks he can do, what he says he can do, and what he actually can do. It's the usually conflict of the civilian mindset versus the mindset of people who actually get shot at with some regularity. I had to look up his Amazon bio to make certain that Kai Wai Cheah hadn't served in law enforcement or the military.

And then there's our hero's family... I await someone to bitch about Kai Wai Cheah using "Asian stereotypes" as he writes his novel in his native Singapore. Heh.

There are a bunch of cute bits as well. They're not SWAT teams, but STAR teams (Resident Evil, anyone?). The investigator is Herbert Franks (cute Cheah. Very cute). Cheah also has bullet storm haiku... no, I'm NOT kidding.

Short version: If Harry Bosch were an Asian superhero, and Michael Connelly had a sense of humor, this is the book you'd end up with -- a Superhero Baen novel. If you enjoy anything put out by Baen, or Harry Bosch, or Astro City, or Jon Bernthal's portrayal of the Punisher in Daredevil, you're probably going to enjoy this one.

My only problem? There is a bit of a cliffhanger. But then again, it did say book 1. For some reason, it does NOT piss me off anywhere near as much as others have.

I wholeheartedly recommend this one. 5/5. I'm seriously considering this for a Dragon Award if I knew where I'd put it.

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