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Agents of Light and Darkness

Simon R. Green

Ace / Penguin Putnam

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN 0-441-01113-6

Publication Date: 11-15-2003

234 Pages; $6.50

Date Reviewed: 12-03-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Horror, Mystery, Fantasy, Science Fiction

03-07-02, 05-28-02, 05-15-03, 06-14-04, 07-21-04

It was only six months ago that I zipped through Simon R. Green's 'Something from the Nightside'. Apparently, my wish is Green's command, because I had hoped back then that it would turn out to be the beginning of a series, and here's the second book quicker than I could have hoped. It's also sufficiently self-supporting that one can read it without having read the first book, though if you're inclined to read this sort of thing, it's well worth the effort to read the first first and the second second. And just what is this sort of thing? A supernatural monster noir, with John Taylor, an inhabitant of the Nightside, a detective and your guide to the hidden part of London where it's always 3 AM and men walk with myths and monsters. It's also one hell of a lot of fun.

This time round, John Taylor is back in the Nightside, doing his shtick, using his talent for finding things. Once again, Big Trouble is Brewing. Taylor meets a shady man from the Vatican in Saint Jude's Church, where prayers are offered and sometimes answered. It seems that someone has found The Unholy Grail. The Vatican wants it back, because it will give anyone who possesses it far too much power than is good for them. It corrupts absolutely, and they know that Taylor can find it. First Taylor picks up his muscle -- Shotgun Susie, the chain-smoking Valkyrie who loves to kill, now dissipated and slightly overweight. He'll need her strengths -- and she his -- if they're to stop the destruction of the Nightside.

The primary delight of Green's creation comes from the easygoing hard-boiled voice of John Taylor. Taylor's an excellent, likable creation, and you'll get a nice mixture of quips and weirdness in nearly every paragraph. But Taylor also has the advantage of being a rather nice guy in one of the best-constructed realms of fantasy you're going to find. Green's Nightside is a delightful mixture of fantasy, horror and science fiction, all seamlessly integrated by Taylor's entertaining monologue. Green keeps his characters in motion constantly, but the pace never seems forced. And once again, he manages a nice twist to conclude what is essentially a long and humorously horrific chase scene.

Green's vision of the Nightside trends towards horror, with lots of scenes that should be more disturbing than they are. It's his great talent to show us some very imaginative grue, but he manages to bypass the gross-out. All in good, fun, really, chap, here's your face. The narrative is so over-the-top that Green can bring in just about anything with ease. Angels and aliens, nightmares and nightclubs, monsters and Merlin all strut their stuff with equal aplomb.

Green also creates some very likable characters. 'Agents of Light and Darkness' lets readers get a lot closer to Shotgun Susie. Green does a great job of making her entertainingly unattractive, yet likable. And while he's surrounded by those who display all sorts of creativity when it comes to violence, John Taylor has no need for violence. Taylor's talent for finding things, cleverly used, gives him immense power. It's a nice touch. It helps Green to make his main character a convincingly nice guy. Readers want to see him succeed, though the odds are ever stacked against him.

'Agents of Light and Darkness' is not the end-all and be-all of dark fantasy literature. It is however, an absolute hoot. And there's considerable skill displayed in making all these disparate angles and angels hang together in a quick, fun book to read. Green makes everything he does look very easy. Yet he creates a complex picture in the reader's mind. There's a lot of talent on display in 'Agents of Light and Darkness'. And the best clue that this is true is that the reader will never have chance to think about all the expertise Green brings to the book. Reading 'Agents of Light and Darkness' is so much fun, you're only thinking about what comes on the next page -- or in the next book.