Tony Noland was one of those authors who kept showing up as a retweet in my Twitter stream. I had no clue who he was or what he was talking about, but it became apparent fairly quickly that he was an author, and one with a sharp sense of humor to boot. I bought his book, fully intending to read it fairly soon after, but then it sat on my Nook for far longer than I’d care to admit. Maybe it was hesitation; I knew absolutely nothing about the book or the author, so who knew if it was good or not? Also, the main character is called the Grammarian. That’s…quite the concept for a superhero. I had no clue what to expect.
Well, I’ve finally read it. And to be fair–I’m still not sure what I should tell you what to expect.
Alex Graham is an independently wealthy man because of *spoilers*, and he spends his days as an antique book restorer and collector of sorts. He’s completely content to live a life apart with just him, his books, and his JARVIS-like AI Mrs. White. And for good reason.
By night, he’s one of Lexicon City’s superheroes, The Grammarian–using his well-above-average intelligence to fight against the notorious Professor Verbosity.
At a perfectly surface level, this is a fairly classic superhero tale. Graham is half Bruce Wayne, half Tony Stark, though he’s got more brains than the two put together. (Plus a few more for good measure.) We have the arch-nemesis. We have the Avant Guardian, the well-meaning but usually useless “helper” hero. There’s a girl. (There’s always a girl.) And we have a climax to blow the roof off of a tall building, with a lovely dash of betrayal mixed in. All the necessary pieces for the superhero genre.
What sets VERBOSITY apart is that it doesn’t rely too strongly on those tropes, while still acknowledging that they exist. Alex would most likely be perfectly happy to only be the antique book guy; he fights as the Grammarian because he feels he has to–because there is a debt to be paid, and he knows he can never truly pay it. Kate Hunter isn’t some damsel in distress; she’s a strong character in her own right, with her own plot twists to reveal that have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman or even a potential romantic interest. (Also, I like how she and Alex are handled at the end, but again, spoilers.) No one is introduced just to be introduced; each character serves a purpose–something I’m always very aware of, and appreciate when authors make a point of using each person intentionally.
There are two downfalls I noted as I read. One: I only truly became invested in one character. I love Alex Graham, and I think he’s fantastic. I’d love to sit down and have some coffee or tea with him, though I think he’d find me utterly dull. I was immersed into his character and his well-being. The same cannot be said for pretty much any other character. Even Kate falls short, though I watched her more intently than others–but, it was for Alex’s sake more than hers. Perhaps the issue is a question of character development and growth. Many of the characters don’t see a major shift in who they are or how they see the world until the very last chapter or so, so we’re never given the chance to see them grow and evolve. On the other hand, Alex makes leaps and bounds through the whole book. (Some forward, some back.)
The other is purely one of my own problems, and not with the book in the least. It’s also one of the reasons I’ve hesitated on this review. In the end, I’ve decided that the book should not suffer because of my own ignorance.
I get utterly lost in the battle scenes.
Because both the Grammarian and Professor Verbosity fight using language memes, it relies (logically) on grammar and sentence structure. My failing: somehow, through 2 writing degrees, I have never been made to take a grammar course. I never learned the words; I don’t have the vocabulary to follow. Also, Alex Graham’s IQ is over 200, and mine is decidedly not. In the simplest of terms: I’m not smart enough to keep up with Alex or the Grammarian. Part of me wants to critique that, and say that there is a certain level of arrogance in writing a book that is (somewhat) strictly designated for “smart people/readers” and saying to hell with the rest of us. The rest of me hates when writers dumb down to match the lowest common denominator, and thus I have no argument. So since this is a problem solely with me, I don’t fault the book for it.
All in all, VERBOSITY’S VENGEANCE is a wonderful book with a fascinating main character, and I’d highly recommend it. And if you know grammar better than I do, well, then you’re probably more the person Noland would rather have reading his book.
Rating: ***** – Highest Recommendation