Alan Smithee

Year of the Black Rainbow – Review

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The album, Year of the Black Rainbow, has been out and in my hands for well over a year (damn near 18 months now) and I just this week got around to reading the novel that came with my Deluxe Edition. The shame of this has only now struck home as I have finished the book by Claudio Sanchez and Peter David and am now kicking myself for waiting so long.

The book itself is a 352 page tome of information that not only compliments the music on the CD but also helps complete my knowledge of the history of the Keywork, the Amory Wars, and much of the mythos that the band Coheed and Cambria represent. This review, as much of a fan of the series I am, will obviously be skewed towards a good score because the message and appeal of the novel is there for guys like me. I will, however, attempt to approach the review as someone whose never heard the music or read the comic series.

The novel starts out simple enough with a prologue that explains the creation of the Keywork, Heaven’s Fence, and the responsibilities of the three main races of the story. The Mages who are to command the land, The Prise who command the heavens, and the Humans who are to toil under the rule of both but are “God’s” chosen people. From there it goes into the rise of Wilhelm Ryan and the ‘Mage Wars’ that are pivotal to the storyline.

Caught in the middle of the wars between the warring mages are the humans of Heaven’s Fence which is the name of the triangle arranged 78 planets bound together by the Keywork and powered by the 7 Stars of Sirius. Wilhelm Ryan wishes to claim the title of Supreme Tri-Mage that signifies his rule over all of the worlds instead of the paltry worlds he was given dominion over as a member of the twelve member Mage council that rule over man.

I won’t give anything away about this book if you fans haven’t picked it up yet and even more so for you soon-to-be fans out there that have been sitting on the fence about picking up this piece of space opera science fiction. Just know that the main themes as far as I could see are the importance of family, love, and how well we handle the lives that we are born into.

Due to a tragic accident, Dr. Leonard Hohenburger and his wife Pearl are forever changed as the war affects them on a personal level, forcing their marriage to the brink of divorce. During this time of hardship, the already brilliant doctor is given revelation as to how he can improve the worsening conditions under Ryan’s rule.

He creates three augmented and artificially created humans, dubbed IRO-Bots, to help in this endeavor:

  • Cambria (aka Knowledge) who possesses strong psychological powers.
  • Coheed (aka Beast) the muscle of the trio, complete with sub-dermal weaponry in the form of an cannon on one arm, and retractable blades on the other.
  • Jesse (aka Inferno) a clone of Dr. Hohenburger that is a supreme tactician and is able to interface with machinery and AIs more efficiently than any normal human.
  • Together, they are known as KBI and are the only force in the Fence to be able to stand against Wilhelm Ryan, his general Mayo Deftinwolf, and the entire Red Army.

    Ok, with the exposition out of the way, let’s get to the proper review points.

    The Writing Writers

    Claudio Sanchez has never written a novel, Peter David has. Both of these exemplary writers DO write comics together as we’ve seen in their most recent outing of The Amory Wars – In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 from BOOM! Studios. This will become apparent as you read Year of the Black Rainbow because for the most part, it reads almost like a comic book put into long form.
    There are scenes of ultra violence that while great in book format, would have served better as a splash page within a comic. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the book’s writing, far from it…I ADORED this book and everything that it stood for, I just think that there are certain pages that contained elements that lend themselves better to visual media. It very well could be that I’m so used to seeing Mr. Sanchez and Mr. David’s work in comic form that I’ve grown spoiled to reading just plain text.

    As it stands, this is a great first novel from Claudio Sanchez and with the inclusion of the roman numeral for one embossed onto the cover of the book, I can only hope that we’ve got another 4 coming from this duo.

    The Story

    The setting and politics of Heaven’s Fence and the Keywork is a fantastic one complete with space travel, magic, psychic abilities, and physics bending weaponry…but you don’t read stories like this to harp on realism do you? From the extremely powerful physical abilities of Coheed and Mayo Deftinwolf to the teleportation skills that Wilhelm Ryan shows off in a few chapters, you know from the get go that this is not a work of science fiction that plays with the zeitgeist of ‘hard’ sci-fi.

    At its base it is a tale of caution and vengeance. I believe that Claudio was aiming on letting people know that when you choose to not be actively involved in the system in which you live, you can’t complain about the leaders that are chosen for you. The vengeance part comes from the reactive nature of man when the status quo is challenged, namely when life HAPPENS to you instead of you taking it for your own.

    I could be reading into this a bit too much but the final chapters in which Dr. Hohenburger is coerced into creating the Monstar virus (it’s not a spoiler considering that it’s pretty much common knowledge to anyone who has listened to the band’s music) are subtle jabs at the folly of mankind to always choose love and life instead of embracing the cold and calculating thought processes of the Mage race or the IRO-Bots.

    The way that the story is written is clever because I didn’t have these thoughts and questions as I was reading, yet as I am writing this review, more answers to questions are coming forward. Bravo sir…bravo.

    Final Thoughts

    If you’re looking for a rather fast read that is full of action with enough human interest to tug at your heartstrings, then look no further. If you’re looking to expand on your knowledge of The Amory Wars, again look no further. However, if you’re looking for a sci-fi epic like Frank Herbert’s Dune or Asimov’s Foundation series then you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    OVERALL: 90%

    There is certainly enough here to satisfy the longing for a long-form story telling of the band’s music, but people who have no knowledge of the band’s music will be left scratching their heads at a few references that were obviously thrown in for the fans. I’m not saying that you won’t enjoy reading this novel, but seeing how one of the only ways to get this book is to buy a collector’s edition of the CD (as the paperback versions have sold out), the incentive toward spending $40+ for a 350 page story isn’t there unless you really want to jump in RIGHT NOW.

    For me, this was a hell of a read and I’m sure I’ll be sharing my hardcover with as many people as I know that care to read it, I only wish that the novel didn’t leave me wanting even more from Mr. Sanchez and Mr. David as I’m sure they’re extremely doing other projects right now and probably haven’t begun work on the next novel in the series. Oh well, I’ll keep holding my breath until we get a novel for my favorite album The Second Stage Turbine Blade.

    Go get this book.

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