In the not-too-far-off future New York, John Shirley has created a world that’s not too different from our own. Except that in Bleak History, the spirit world (The Hidden) has become a force that manifests itself through various “gifted individuals,” giving them special abilities.
Gabriel Bleak, an ex-Army Ranger now turned bounty hunter, is one of these. Ever since leaving the Army, Gabe has been under the watchful eye of a shadowy government agency that tries to use this hidden world and its gifted people in its anti-terrorism agenda. They want Gabe Bleak, and they’ll do just about anything to get him.
Most of Bleak History’s plot concerns the pursuit of our hero, and while the chase goes on, the story unravels in some expected — and unexpected — ways. The characters are well developed and their motives are understandable. Gabe’s inner struggle with his conscious is particularly well portrayed.
Gabe’s powers make for some great action: rooftop leaping, gun play, and explosions! Mix in all kinds of help from the denizens of The Hidden, and John Shirley’s ability to draw an image in your head, and you’ve got a book that’s quite addicting. The pacing of Bleak History is perfect for a Hollywood film which, according to John Shirley’s website, may be in the works. In print form, however, the plot flowed smoothly for the first 90% of the book and then ends rather suddenly. That’s not enough to reduce my overall enjoyment, but I wanted Bleak History to be about half again as long — I liked it that much.
Bleak History delivers on many levels in a way that reminds me of Jim Butcher’s Storm Front. John Shirley’s got something special here, with loads of promise. I think these characters have more stories to tell, so I’d love to read more books set in this world.
I highly recommend John Shirley’s Bleak History to any urban fantasy fan who enjoys a straight forward plot, interesting characters, and a fast pace.