Posted on May 14, 2010 by teampreston
Available at Amazon.com
Dieter Lanz is a young recruit to the 3rd Hochland Swordsmen, otherwise known as ‘the Scarlets’. His regiment is called into battle when an orc army starts to rampage across the countryside, and when the Scarlets are defeated, Hochland is threatened with collapse. As a desperation measure, legendary general Ludwig Von Grahl is brought out of retirement – he is the last hope to stem the vicious green tide.
It wasn’t until I watched Star Wars, Episode One, The Phantom Menace when it dawned on me what bothered me about this novel. Well…it’s not just one thing, but it is a biggie in my estimation: I hate child prodigies. The new kid that is awesome, has elite skills and never makes a bad move or decision. Yeah. Hate him.
Why? Because I can’t relate to him. He’s a superhero. A Player Character amongst a cast of NPCs. Call to Arms is fairly entertaining but at no time was I worried about the primary protagonist. There really is only one protagonist anyhow. Everyone else seems like window dressing. I ended up pulling for Holst and Gerhardt etc. more than Dieter “Skywalker” Lang.
Don’t get me wrong, Mitchel Scanlon is a good writer. I won’t disparage the man’s skill: the scenes are nicely detailed. Some bits are very well thought out and tasty. For example the teen is accepted into the regiment in a bit of ceremony that is very cool. There are several scenes like this. This isn’t a “bad” book at all.
My issues with the story are:
First, the protagonist isn’t one I can get warmed up to. Too good – on every level; makes no mistakes. As a teen he’s hardly challenged by anything that he faces.
Second, the side-characters are under-developed. They remain fairly peripheral yet I pulled for them more than Dieter. The roles they play are pretty typical “soldier story” fare. You have the old hand that sleeps every chance he gets, the pessimist, the grizzled sergeant and dependable good captain and a couple shit-bag troopers to serve as troublemakers.
Third, the novel is generally very four-color. I think it would work great as a graphic novel or series of comics. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad except a couple troublemakers who wear black hats. Though I admit that some Black Library authors write the same way – Dan Abnett among them – I confess my preference is for authors that are able to leave the four-color world and dig deep in to shades of grey: characters – protagonists – that are human, fallible, make mistakes, do the wrong thing and learn from it (or not). It gives them character. Makes them easier to relate to.
Lastly, aside from the earlier parts of the story I never really worried about who was going to “win”. There were very few surprises in the plot.
Again, I want to stress that the author is clearly a good writer, he can craft a scene, describe action nicely and all that. I don’t expect a batter to hit a home run every time at bat; I just feel that this novel fell a bit short.
Call to Arms was somewhat enjoyable although a bit of a chore to finish. I kept hoping for more depth all the way to the end.
2 of 5 Stars.
Review by Jeff Preston