Iíve never read a Simon R. Green book, but Iíve heard good things about him. So when I had a chance to read Guards of Haven, a collection of three ďHawk & FisherĒ books, I jumped at the chance. (Note: This is the second set of books, with three books preceding these). Green shows an interesting knack for world-building in this series, with the title characters part of the city guard in the supremely corrupt cesspool of a city called Haven. Sadly, the characterization in the books doesnít quite live up to the world-building, though Hawk and Fisher themselves are well done for the most part. Overall, itís a fun series thatís never very heavy, despite the somewhat oppressive atmosphere Green sometimes gives the city.
One aspect that isnít done quite as well, however, is the fact that Hawk and Fisher are supposed to be married, yet they donít act like it very often (with the exception of the third book, where thereís a bit more marital flirting between the two of them). There is some affection between them, and the occasional reference to marital issues (like Hawk thinking about how Fisher and he had thought about having children), but none of it seems to come from the characterization itself; itís mostly lip service.
The first book in the collection is called Wolf in the Fold. In it, Hawk and Fisher are trying to track down a spy who can change his appearance. They know heís joined a wealthy household just in time for the funeral of the patriarch, but they have no idea what he currently looks like. Our heroes are charged with infiltrating the house as a brother and sister, long-forgotten cousins of the family who have arrived for the funeral and the reading of the will. But the house is under a horrible curse, and when the new patriarch magically seals the house for the proscribed 24-hour period, none of them may survive whatís been unleashed.
This book is the perfect example of my previous point about Hawk and Fisherís marriage. When they are pretending to be brother and sister, I didnít feel that their characterization was much different from what it was before they embarked on their mission. Sure, there was the standard uncomfortableness of one of the wealthy aunts hitting on Hawk, but other than that there was nothing.
That being said, this is a wonderful introduction to the series as well as the characters, with the byplay between the two of them being well done and the interaction with the other houseguests excellent. Green has a habit (demonstrated in all three books, unfortunately), of stopping the action dead to describe his characters in great detail, both in appearance and personality. Thankfully, itís not as annoying in a story like this, where everybody is in the house for a reason and we need to quickly get to know the players in the game so weíll know who to look out for. In the other books, it does become extremely irritating.
Thatís the only real bad aspect of Wolf in the Fold, however. Otherwise, Green dishes up an intriguing mystery with twists and turns, and even some great action scenes.
Guard Against Dishonor is the second book in the collection, and it isnít quite as good as the first. Havenís city guard, as well as its politicians, has its fair share of corrupt officials, and this story deals heavily with that issue. Hawk lets his temper and sense of justice get the best of him to deal with the manufacturer of a vicious new drug, and numerous people wind up dead. The guard couple is separated while things cool down, with Fisher aiding the guarding of a peace conference and Hawk getting a new partner to track down the drug kingpin (hopefully in a less violent fashion). Things go from bad to worse when itís proven that there is a dirty cop involved in everything, and worse still when Hawk learns itís Fisher and Fisher learns that itís Hawk. Can they figure out everything in time to save their reputations, and their lives?
This book takes the corruption in Haven to a whole new level, really making me wonder why anybody would live there. Weíve seen pits like this before (for example, the Gotham City of Batman Begins), and Iíve always had to question why anybody would willingly stay there where they live in fear of their lives. Green is the master of these extremes, though, and he does a credible job of making the reader determined to find out whatís going on, all the while adding some poignancy to life in Haven. Especially effective is Hawkís reaction to the building collapse that traps numerous people, and the way it turns back on itself at the end.
Separating Hawk and Fisher actually highlights their characterizations more, making them much more interesting to read about. We get more of a sense of who they are, both as a couple and as individuals, when theyíre playing off other people instead of each other. Thatís the main strength of this story, and one that keeps you rooted when the oppressive atmosphere starts to get annoying. This is also the first of these three books to showcase both illustrious guardsí ability to fight off massive numbers of enemies with hardly a scratch, but thatís a conceit of the genre and not as bad as it could have been. The action scenes add to the fun and are very well-written.
While Guard Against Dishonor doesnít quite live up to the first book, itís certainly worth a read.
The Bones of Haven rounds out this collection, and itís the deepest book of the three by far. It starts with a riot at the local prison where all of the hardened criminals (including quite a few dangerous wizards) are being held, then rolls into a political drama where the fragile peace between two warring countries is put at risk due to an insane desire for revenge. Hawk and Fisher may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep Haven from being destroyed in the process.
This book is the best in the collection, despite the overabundance of enemies that not only our heroes, but also their companions, have to face and survive. At times, it seems like they are facing (and beating!) thousands of them, though I know thatís an exaggeration. The intriguing storyline more than makes up for it. Just what is the purpose of the prison riot? And what dark deed do the bad guys have planned? This story begins with quite a few twists and turns before turning into a more straightforward narrative that still packs a punch. I wondered at times whether they would even be able to succeed without something horrible happening, and since this could very well have been the last book, itís possible that Green would end things with a bang.
Itís that uncertainty that carries Bones of Haven through to the end. Itís an enjoyable trip through the mythos that Green has created (letís just say that Haven isnít the only interesting place Green has thought up) that doesnít let go.
Overall, the Guards of Haven collection is a must-read for anybody who likes a bit of Philip Marlowe added to their fantasy world. The series is well-written, with poignant moments that finally do make you believe that there is some hope in Havenís world. Green gives every fantasy fan what they want to see.