Book Review: The Tube Riders, by Chris Ward
The Tube Riders is a near-future novel set in a fictitious Great Britain that has been cordoned off from the rest of the world by a corrupt government for purposes of achieving the powerful Governor’s secret agenda (which eventually you do get to find out, but I’m not going to tell).
The story revolves around a group of youngsters who have bonded around a hobby, tube riding, which provides them with an adrenaline rush and with a diversion from the plight of their hard lives, but even more important, tube riding gives them an identity: they are the Tube Riders. Tube riding allows them to find a sense of family, and, in their own small way, to fight back against the system that has denied them opportunities to do more than find abstract diversions like, well, tube riding. However, fighting back doesn’t stay “in their own small way” for long.
What follows is a story of bad luck and bad timing, and, after discovering something they shouldn’t have, they find themselves in a devilish circumstance that has them on the run from not just what serves as the authorities in this world, but the monstrous technological perversions the government’s bio-mechanical scientists have developed over time… the Huntsmen.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to rate this book, because I’m not entirely sure who the book’s target audience is, and that makes a lot of difference. I think as a young adult book, especially for boys, it’s really good, filled with lots of action, a fast-paced plot, a dab of sexuality here and there, which includes sexual violence (not much, and only marginally sordid). However, it’s only young adult depending on how hypersensitive and Victorian you are as a parent. If you can remember your own youth and weren’t brought up in the Church of Yawn or by Our Lady of Eternal PC, then it’s fine for a youth growing up in a YouTube era, despite the profanity and sex. On the other hand, if you have a stick up your backside, then you will be offended by it and should avoid it in favor of pretending your kids aren’t exposed to far worse language at school and on the Internet every day.
That said, I’d say this book is definitely more suited to the twenty-five and younger crowd (yes, arbitrary line in the sands of time there). I’m just not sure it’s as effective for the over thirty crowd, unless they come at it understanding that it’s a light, quick read for pure pleasure and some fun fight scenes, but a bit light on narrative credibility. So, how anyone reads this review really depends on where they are coming from. Anyway, enough set up, here are my impressions, all in all:
The world in this book is awesome. I love what sci-fi author Chris Ward has done to the UK come the 2070s. Not only is the world believable, it’s rendered palpably and well, especially in the first half of the book. In fact, if I’m completely honest, while I was reading this book during the first half of it, I had several dreams about it, my mind was captured and I was caught up in the London GUA (greater urban area) and how life was there. While I thought during the first pages that tube riding was an odd thing, Ward did a great job of making it real and believable, and given how life had been for those characters, it totally works. Great stuff.
It’s also fantastic in the essence of its action. There are tons of fight scenes, chases, and, of course, people leaping on trains and hanging on for dear life by the grace of luck, balls, and a “clawboard.” If you like action, this book is full of it, and it is almost non-stop action.
I also give this book kudos for making some very interesting characters. My personal favorite is the character of Switch. He’s a tough young guy who’s had a rough life—who hasn’t in this book?—but one who is particularly clever, independent and creative. He’s not a pretty boy, he’s not a ninja, he’s actually pretty anti-climactic as hero stereotypes go, which is why he’s such a great character. Switch rocks. I also liked the character of Paul. Although he is not as exciting as Switch, he does ring genuine, and as the story moves on, he stays true to his values, which are believable and consistent. Having him there in the story, a guy like him managing to be accepted as part of the group as “normal” as he is, adds humanity to a story that might easily have had none.
As far as bad guys go, the Governor is very cool in concept, as is Dreggo. I can’t comment on why, because that would take away some of the fun, so, let’s just say, they are cool. However, I have to say, this is the part of this review where I have to start talking about things that didn’t work as well for me.
With the exception of the Governor and government agent Clayton, I don’t really know if I am completely sold on the main forces of evil, especially the Huntsmen and despite how cool the idea of them is. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just skim some of the essence of it.
The huntsmen are these super hardcore bio-engineered half man, half monster guys. They are super interesting in concept and you learn pretty early on how tough they are (insane strength, speed, menacing claws and teeth, etc.), and are told frequently how hard it is to kill them, etc. And yet, it’s not. They actually are made most effective by the fact that there are many of them more than they are effective based on the individual applications of the aforementioned insane strength, speed and hardcore menace.
I’m not saying they are never hardcore and cool as killing machines go. They are, a lot of times, all throughout the book they are brutal and death spreads like blood from an open wound whenever they are around. But, they also get smoked by things as banal as one shot from a piece of wood, a heaved bag of CDs and VHS tapes, and a few other instances that just seemed too easy for the good guys to make an escape.
Which leads me to my main complaint.
This story has a great core plot, but there are several places where to me it seems like deus ex machina is carrying the day. To be perfectly frank, somewhere around the 75% mark, I felt like there was really no danger for the main characters anymore. It just felt like whenever the proverbial poop was about to hit the fan, poof, fate found a way for the Tube Riders, some chance bit of luck kicked in, some unforeseen helpful character(s) appeared and, the plot moved forward.
I think it was definitely the third quarter of the book that troubled me the most. From about 65% (reading on a Kindle) to around 85% I found myself annoyed in spots at how convenient this plot element or that was. It felt like the writer was making sure the story kept going the way he wanted it to.
However, come the last 10% or so, the action and the vision of the writer, the dream that probably spawned the idea to begin, began to unfold naturally again and I found myself really enjoying the end.
Ultimately, I had to decide how to rate this story. I decided to view it like a football game, rating each quarter on its own. If I used a star-rating system (which I don’t), I would give the first quarter five stars, far and away. I think the author was the most careful and meticulous with his prose during this part. I give the second quarter a four-star rating. The third quarter gets a two star rating. I’d actually give the first part of the fourth quarter a two star as well, but the ending is at least four stars, if not five. Which means, it should be a 3.5 star rating or some such, or, on my rating scale halfway between a Center Centaur and a Hot Princess. I think I would have given this a Hot Princess rating if I were still in my teens or twenties. But, because I’m in my mid-forties and something of a curmudgeon before my time, I had to knock it down one, especially because there were some, not a ton, but a few, editing issues that were distracting, which sort of broke the tie.
But I don’t think that should prevent anyone who loves adventure, action and cool dystopian type stories from checking this one out. It’s an easy read, and, the price is amazing, especially since it’s a nice long book that will keep you entertained for a long time. If you need a deep and tightly wound plot that sets up everything in advance with subtle precision, this isn’t for you, but if you like fights and cyborg warriors, and just a nice fun adventure to enjoy while at the beach or in the backyard with a beer… well, give this one a shot.
I realize that is kind of a wishy-washy review. So, if, in the end, someone were to ask me, “Would you read the sequel if he wrote one?” I can honestly say, “Yes, I would.”
And, as always, I’d love to hear dissenting opinions. If you think I’ve been too kind to this story or been too harsh, by all means, let me know. Half the fun of reading anything is finding people to talk about it with.