"Sherwood and Orson should never have gone into that cave. That day, a door was opened from our world into a dark and profane realm...and earth's destiny was changed forever. In this demented future, whatever life remains on earth is oppressed by the evil shadowsmen. Only a gang of ruthless and powerful children called the Wrenchies can hope to stand against them. When Hollis, a lonely boy from our world, is magically given access to the future world of the Wrenchies, he finally finds a place he belongs. But it is not an easy world to live in, and Hollis's quest is bigger than he ever dreamed of."--From publisher's web site.
With the retro, 1950s or early 1960s backstory to The Wrenchies combined with the horrific events that lead up to the present day, I'm reminded of early Stephen King, "The Body" or It. Things get out of hand when a pair of boys go into a storm drain and are attacked by an unspeakable evil.
The background art for The Wrenchies is stunning. It's crowded with details that need second and third looks. When a new location is introduced, especially in the far future, there's usually a single page devoted entirely to it, like an establishing shot. They remind me of the sorts of picture books I loved as a kid that featured cut aways of day to day things (like skyscrapers, hospitals, factories, etc.)
But stunning set design wasn't enough to get me fully engrossed in this book. The plot itself is nonlinear (fairly normal for a time travel story) and frenetic. With a huge ensemble cast all fighting for panel time, combined with the cuts back and forth, as well as some incredibly disgusting scenes involving a combination of extreme violence and the typical rotting decay of horror, I lost interest in trying to sort of the time line.
The gross out factors of the book seem to be there mostly for padding. Cut most of them out, and the remaining story is a much tighter, still non-linear tale of self sacrifice and time travel.
I’m torn with this book. Farel Dalrymple has clearly built a world that rivals that of Middle Earth, among others. And it’s a complex, twisted, emotionally gripping, story. But the story...the story I became somewhat lost in. The Shadowsmen grabbed hold of me a couple of times and I had to fight my way out and then start the book over again to try to get a good sense of the story so that I could write this review. And it became a challenge to do so. Farel has built such a complex world, two worlds to be honest, that at times it became hard for me to keep the characters straight as we moved in and out of the worlds and as they merged together it became even more confusing. And by the end, I needed to reread it a couple of times to see if I could follow what had actually been said. The strength of the book to me though, was where we were in The Wrenchies world. Solely their world and we got to see them inhabit and fight in it. It’s a fantastic steampunkish, dark moorish, out of this world landscape that is so different you want to know more about it where the characters kick butt and take no gruff from anyone and I wanted to follow them to the ends of their world. But then we went back to the “real world,” where things started blurring together and I became somewhat lost. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good story, a complex and powerful one that will leave you thinking and fighting with Shadowsmen...but it is one that you may have to read a few times to fully follow the story. And one to read in the light, less the Shadowsmen grab you.
The part that I enjoyed the most of this book was Farel’s artwork, which are gorgeous, lush watercolors. I had the chance to hear him speak and he talked about using Crayola paints, you know those cheap things that you get in school? Yeah...talk about having talent out the wazoo to be able to create such a gorgeous worlds, with those things. Farel’s style though captures the fading and decaying nature of The Wrenchies world with ease and little details will jump out at you as you reread the book. Layers, upon layers that build and create the world and make it slightly off putting, slightly strange, and slightly out of touch with reality, capture the essence of what the story is. And maybe because I relate more to the art this didn’t bother me as much as the written words did, but I had an easier time reading the art alone, than trying to read the story with it.
Overall this is a complex book, one that I’m going to have to come back to a few more times I think and ponder over. I would recommend the book to fans of Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, and Lord of the Rings fans. And I give the book 3 out of 5 stars.
ARC provided by Gina at First Second