This is by far the Stephen-Kingiest of Junior's few novels. The villain feels a little thin, just a few nasty characteristics without a foundation to hold them together. Hill used a couple of limp metaphors to explain what's what and called it good. Meh. I got similarly superficial vibes from King books like Cell, Needful Things, It, Pet Semetary.
Hill has also picked up Dad's combat-writing habits: good guy and bad guy fight, good guy receives a series of gruesome injuries, these injuries are detailed lovingly and at length and always include the the word "tearing", the reader goes "Oh my, Good Guy is ruined, however will he triumph now" and the good guy proceeds to triumph through some monumental self-sacrifice. It's not that it's a bad bit of plotting; it totally grabbed me the first few times I read it. But I am getting tired of knowing in advance how these conflicts will play out.
One thing I do appreciate is Hill's habit of non-squeaky-clean heroes. They tend towards tattoos, minor criminal records, alcohol/drug addiction. His protagonists are more interesting than his bad guys.
He also threw in some awesome nerd references and some to other Hill and King books. Great little Easter eggs.
"'I am a leaf on the wind.'"
"Dude stop saying that! I can't afford to start crying at work."
In spite of my complaints I quite liked NOS4A2; I just enjoyed Horns and Heart-Shaped Box more (and Locke & Key! Oh how I love Locke & Key.) Those feel more original and inspired. NOS4A2 is more like a Xerox of a good book.
Apparently the King of France was heavily in debt to the Templars and jealous of their wealth and popularity. In a historically brazen act of treachery he had all the Templars in France arrested one night, charged them with heresy, fraud, idolatry, apostasy, gay orgies, and spitting on crucifixes, tortured confessions out of them, then burned them at stakes.
Mechner manages to construct a tense, rollicking caper story around this gruesome history lesson. A few of the more rascally knights escape the inquisition and plot to steal the legendary Templar treasure hoard out from under the king's nose in retaliation for the gross injustices.
Templar and I got off to a bad start. The landscapes are gorgeous but the people look cartoony. And while I don't need my Templar stories to actually be in 14th century Parisian French, I found that the Shut-up!-No-you-shut-up! 21st-century-teenager nature of the dialogue took me out of the story a lot at first.
But the plot was actually pretty clever. I loved how one character managed to extract the location of a prisoner from her powerful brother while making him think she was doing him a favor; it worked. The location of the hidden treasure and the problems they encountered and surmounted were interesting and plausible. There's a great panel where a character--tasked with saving the Templars, and failing badly--is walking head down to the left while wind is blowing all the trees to the right; great visual. And I accidentally absorbed some fascinating history along the way. Can't go wrong with that.
The Ninth Wave is a "direct action" conservationist mission consisting of one ship with a crew of maybe twelve, led by an avowed pacifist ex-mercenary. Ninth Wave's chartered purpose has something fuzzy to do with protecting the world's oceans, apparently by sailing around pontificating and scrambling for supplies.
As a conservationist cautionary tale it's not bad. The author touches on locales all over the globe, showing how industrialization and corporate greed hurt different places in different ways. To me it seems intelligently written and well researched.
As an ad for the wisdom and benefits of pacifism it's pretty lame. The heroes refuse to arm themselves against an endless onslaught of piracy, theft and general murderiness, citing weak, vague, impractical justifications like "We need to RESPECT the violent places, not bring more violence to them!" They survive through implausibly good luck and by finding hypocritically unconventional ways to kill the bad guys. It's a mixed message.
Oh, and the title? "The Massive" is the name of the long lost second ship in the Ninth Wave fleet. The unifying plot thread is that they're supposedly trying to find it. By sailing randomly around the globe. It's only mentioned occasionally, to justify the name of the series.
Captain: "Any sign of the Massive?"
Navigator: "No sir, for some reason we still haven't managed to blunder into it by sheer utter mad coincidence."
Captain: "Okay, let's go hide from some more pirates. Gosh it feels good to be unarmed in the face of imminent rapey death. What a wonderful statement I'm making."
Skinwalker is a total hack of Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series. Let's see, vampire killer...check. Droll and deadly...check. Last of the Indian skinwalkers--who have special skinwalker vampire-killing qualities!--big fat check. Badass combat-trained female shapechanging hero, chackorama. Recent vamp community-revealing alternate history, check check checkitycheck.
And doesn't Anne Rice own the rights to the New Orleans-vampire setting? The way Stephen King owns the rights to the small-town-in-Maine setting?
Anyway. Not much meat here but it's easy enough to read I guess. There's loads of chaste flirting with dangerous-bad-boys-with-good-hearts and a weak who-is-the-rogue mystery plotline.
Yeah, I KNOW that everything is derivative to some extent. There are only four stories, no new ideas under the sun, yadda yadda. But in this case it was ridonkulous. And not even as GOOD as Briggs. Maybe that's the worse of the sins.