Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bastard Reaction: Blades of Winter by G. T. Almasi

Blades of Winter by G. T. Almasi is the most action-packed novel I've read, to say nothing of its fast pace. It starts at top speed, and doesn't let up until the very end. In fact, after some upgrades, the novel keeps accelerating beyond its limits at an unparalleled frantic pace. Set in an alternate-history universe, Almasi's debut jumps right into the Shadowstorm; the Cold War on steroids.

Alix Nico is an up-and-coming, yet still low level, super agent of ExOps (Extreme Operations Division) who conned her way into an operation way above her pay grade. In what seemed to be a routine surveillance mission, Alix Nico gets thrust into an operation with dire consequences filled with assassination attempts and a hunt for a traitor; an operation linked to a mission in which Alix's father died years ago.

Code named Scarlet, Alix is a petite redhead 19 year-old million dollar killing machine. ExOps is a government backed clandestine division which fights in what is known as the Shadowstorm, which basically is a Cold War involving the four remaining superpowers of the world after WWII: United States, Germany, Russia, and China. To serve their purposes, scientific advancements have enabled these superpowers and their respective secret agencies to create superhuman spies which will be integral to how the Shadowstorm will be played. Alix is one of these superhuman spies, who's undergone modifications totaling over the aforementioned million dollars. Not quite The Six Million Dollar Man, but close.

Alix is also the narrator of the novel from the first person perspective. She's one sassy character, very much an acquired taste, and a bit of a tomboy which really comes through the voice of her narration. I don't think there'll be much middle ground with her. Either you'll like her or hate her as a character because she's a bit of a brat. Still I found Alix quite amusing, particularly with her outlook on life and the fact that she's very much self-aware of what she is, which is part of her charm. I don't know if everyone will see her that way.
"I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my mother, but I do know she has the best daughter in the whole fucking world."
Damn right I say. I mean, seriously, how can you not like a character with such wisdom. Precisely what I keep reminding my mom of...except for the "daughter" part. In any case, Alix has an interesting way of viewing the world, and there's plenty of humor to it too. And of course, the action in pure violent bliss.

Blades of Winter features over-the-top violence amid action sequences that will require incredible suspension of disbelief. You can't help, but imagine how this story would look in a fully budgeted film with the combination of high octane fast action with characters interacting with a fusion of both bionic and chemical upgrades, which are further enhanced with advances in Information Technology. With the bluntness and descriptive carnage from Alix, it would surely look awesome in a hard R rated movie with all the bone snapping, entrails pulling, heart squeezing, spinal-cord breaking, brain exploding violence.

I'm usually not a fan of alternate history stories, for some reason my mind keeps telling me "it's all lies!" despite my awareness of it being a fictional story. With that in mind I have to commend the effort here as I very much enjoyed the world building and how Almasi has set-up the wold from WWII and on. Though I would have liked to see a bit more of the more mundane society at work, I liked the integration of social-political issues with diplomatic dilemmas adjusted to events of how WWII unfolded. Jews are enslaved in Germany, United States has conquered Cuba making it a state, while also occupying Japan and dropping the atom bomb on a Chinese army, all which set the stage for the Shadowstorm to develop thus avoiding the superpowers from destroying each other and the world. That said, it felt like for the most part, we're only aware of what happened from the Tropic of Cancer and above. So I kept asking myself, what happened to the rest of the world, given the new world stage and its superpowers?

Which became a bit of a problem for me, in part because the most important catalyst of the plot in this story is directly linked to an oil crisis which forced the US to take measures against Germany (who controlled much of the Middle-East, and thus strong oil positions). In turn, what about Venezuela? Now that the United States has a strategic position in Cuba, it seems like the next logical step to consider Venezuela's role and how the United States could've used it to its advantage. Maybe it would've been inconsequential, but I thought it should've played some part in it. Then Brazil certainly needed to be considered in some respect. All this seemed important to me particularly with the risk of starting a new full blown war against a superpower which threatened the status quo.

The plot itself was straight-forward and very predictable in some manners, particularly with figuring out who the bad guys were. I guess it wasn't of much consequence since there's really not much time to think on it anyways. The story too is consistent throughout, so much of what you get early on is what you'll get as the story progresses. It took me a bit to get into it, but once I found the rhythm I didn't look back. That said, what you find in the early chapters is representative of what you'll find later on, so do with that information what you will.

The relationships in Blades of Winter were interesting, partly because of their unique interaction with some good banter, and quite refreshing. At the same time, other than with her mother, I felt they were quite superficial so as events go along and bad shit happens the impact is not pronounced. Also, for all the death and violence, Almasi seemed a bit reluctant to do some real damage to our heroes. It remains to be seen if this will continue, particularly in light of the ending it had. Also seemed like every time Alix got messed up, it was just an excuse to give her some more upgrades and mods. Speaking of it, was a bit disappointed with the agency she's working in. Alix keeps messing up in some areas, yet there's no real ramification for her actions. In fact, she seems to get rewarded for her screw-ups be it by upgrades or promotions, and that just can't continue being in my opinion.

The Blades of Winter novel couldn't have come out at a better time, right after the London 2012 Olympics. I say this because Alix Nico used to be an Olympic gymnast prodigy. The year is 1980, and we get introduced to a younger pre-teen Alix in a newspaper article from 1972 as she dominated in Madison Square Garden in her age category, alluding to possibility of her winning gold in the next Olympics. All this to say that for some reason, for the rest of the novel, every time I thought of Alix Nico I kept visualizing a bad-ass weaponized gymnastic's legend, gold medalist Olga Korbut with a worse attitude and blowing shit up.

Blades of Winter begins a series that promises to deliver non-stop action that will without a doubt satisfy action enthusiast. There's plenty of room for Almasi to improve, but as it stands it's a series I'll surely continue reading whenever I get the itch for this particular type of story because I know what I'll be getting out of it: excitement, humor, and over the top violence.


  1. Thanks. I've been curious since I heard it is a AH,because that IS right in my wheelhouse.

    1. Will be curious how you find it if you give it a shot. I don't know why I'm so averse to reading alternate-history. My experience with it hasn't been a bad one, but for some reason when I read a description depicting a story a such it doesn't interest me.

      I really need to make a better effort, particularly interested in Anne Lyle's The Alchemist of Souls.

  2. First I've heard of this, but it sound like something I may enjoy. Sorta like Alias written by Harry Turtledove. I actually like Alternate history, even if it frustrates me sometimes. If you spend too much time going but... but... it will drive you crazy.

    I hope they do an audio version of this, since I doubt I will get a chance to fit it into my print TBR pile which is expanding exponentially.

    1. I think something like Nikita might be more appropriate, with all the youth training into super soldiers and what not.

  3. I just started reading Blades of Winter and hate to put it down. I really found the alternate history fascinating. Nothing I would have imagined.

  4. Um, I already have it on my WANT list...or so I think I do. I might want to double check that. Thanks for the great review here.


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