“A SUBTLE AGENCY”
BOOK 1: THE METAFRAME WAR
by Graeme Rodaughan
Like Brian Lumley’s “Necroscope” series, “Metaframe” is a spy thriller with vampires. Here, the vampires’ agents employ state-of-the-art tracking devices, civil information-gathering, electronic forgery, and a small army of state-authorized operatives to track down our hero, Anton Smith. I can totally get into modern-day vampires utilizing all these resources.
Chapter 1 begins with a cavalcade of names and characters listed and no way to keep track of them. We are told about Chloe, Marcus, Cornelius and his five generals, Anna, William, Anton, Arthur, James, Louise, Jean Philippe, along with mention of an Order and a Dominion and a Red Empire. Throughout, there are a lot of names thrown out, both characters and technical terms, and both pivotal and peripheral. I think that “A Subtle Agency” would have played better if it started with our hero, Anton, and we were to experience what’s happening through his innocent eyes.
If you can get through that, the techno-thriller that follows is cool. At about the one-third mark, the book really comes into its own. The pace is brisk and exciting as Anton learns of his heritage and gains allies.
“The Metaframe War” is a good spy vs. spy novel. It falls a bit short as a horror novel, despite the presence of vampires. These vampires are powerful and dangerous but not horrifying or mysterious or haunting. They kill, but so do car crashes.
Fortunately, these vampires don’t whine and bemoan their fate for 200 pages. Rodaughan’s vampires have goals and ambitions and they do whatever they need to achieve those goals. These vampires are evil.
Their leader is Cornelius Crane, who overlooks the Vampire Dominion from atop the tallest building in New York City. Despite having existed for a thousand years, Crane battles organizations even older.
These enemies, the Order of Thoth and the Red Empire, also try to keep up with the times, despite being as old as civilization. But these two organizations hate one another and spend more time fighting each other than the Undead. That is totally believable.
Harder to relate to, however, is the vampires themselves. I hate when vampires come off as superheroes, smashing through the wall with their fists (as one does). I prefer when they maintain their supernatural mystery and not become something that’s analyzed under a microscope. But many writers and readers seem to prefer this, so I’m clearly in the minority.
The writing is fast-paced, though it could use more dialog and less brooding thoughts. Periodically, sentences run on and should be broken into two sentences, but overall, this is good writing.
The plot, with vampires manipulating human affairs and a handful of humans fighting an uphill battle against them, is very clever.
The action is very good, though a little complicated if you’re not familiar with all the weapons and technology presented. There’s an epic fight scene at the end with tons of swordplay, gunplay, and explosions.
The characters might be the weakest part of the story. Yes, the villains are evil but they are also rather stiff. Of the heroes, the Wu family are the best developed and likeable. Anton, at one and the same time, can come off as inept and then turn around and be just a little too perfect. I think I would have liked this plot better if we had been following an everyman. (The relationship between Anton and Li seems inspired by that in “Pacific Rim”.)
Quibble: I can’t imagine Anton, or anyone, asking “What’s at Riker’s Island?” as it’s one of the oldest and largest jails in America. But considering the author is Australian, that’s a small quibble.
Still, I enjoyed “Metaframe War” and I look forward to seeing the next book.