Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I promised, didn’t I? Well here it is, my read of Church & State. Enjoy!

There was a short dedication in the front of the phone book which thanked Gerhard for arriving when he did and Deni for leaving when she did. That one line about Dave’s ex wife hinted that the split was somewhat acrimonious.

The introduction was short and fairly standard. It states that Church & State is the second of a trilogy of 3 novels. Church & State II was at this time still being written and Dave does give a ‘guesstimate’ of when it would be completed and says that he’s dancing as fast as he can. Dave delivered. I can think of a few fantasy authors who have failed on this count and also promised that they were working hard, but their actions said otherwise (sorry, being a fantophile, it’s a bit of a pet peeve and something that seems to be more and more common these days). I found it interesting that he advocated reading High Society if you weren’t quite up to what was going on in Church & State. He advised to do it, but did say it wasn’t essential if you didn’t want to. What intrigued me was that he made no mention of the first 25 issues contained in the Cerebus phone book. It’s not a single narrative in the way that High Society was, but I still think it’s an important part of the novel as a whole. I advocate starting with Cerebus, it is where the story starts and along with the aardvark many other major characters are introduced there. It’s also a very good look at how the Dave’s talent as both an artist and a storyteller developed.

The first chapter of Church & State is quite short, more of a prologue really. It appears to be set in the lower city and takes place at a tavern called The Blue Duck. I wondered if the name was an oblique reference to the albatross that was such an important plot point in High Society. There are two thugs at the bar when Cerebus enters. One is regaling the other with what he regards as a humourous tale about an assault he committed on a group of hapless individuals.

Cerebus orders ale and sits down at a nearby table. He puts a book down, along with a small pot of ink, dips a quill in it and begins to write. While the aardvark’s hand writing is legible and flowing, his skills as a writer leave something to be desired. It appears to be a memoir of sorts, a kind of instruction manual about what not to do if you ever become Prime Minister. The strongly worded references to Lord Julius and admonitions to not take advice from him suggest that it is based on personal experience.

I could see the chapter’s punch line coming the moment Cerebus chose a table near the thugs. He had a whole tavern to choose from, but he had to sit close to a powerfully built, violent character who was fond of gesticulating grandly as he spoke. Sure enough one of the gestures hits Cerebus’ drink and knocks it over, spoiling his meticulously written paragraph. The story ends with an outside view of The Blue Duck, the written sounds of violence that emanate from the tavern tell us that Cerebus is pounding the living daylights out of the thug.

It was a neat enough way to start the new book, but I just felt the ending was too pat. It was like Dave couldn’t think of a new joke, so he fell back on a tried and trusted one; Cerebus’ rage at a simple mishap getting the better of him and leading to an improbable beating for the perpetrator of the accident. I suppose we’re lucky Cerebus’ fur didn’t get wet and start to smell.

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