Grant Blackwood - Shastrix Books

Grant Blackwood

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The Kingdom

The Kingdom

Clive Cussler & Grant Blackwood

22nd June 2011

The third book of Blackwood and Cussler's 'Fargo Adventures' is the best yet, although that in itself is not much of a compliment. After a friend goes missing in Nepal, the Fargos are hired to find him, but they soon fall into a deadly treasure hunt, as usual.

Overall, this book seems toned down from its predecessors. The characters are less cartoony, the adventures less implausible, and the background less fantastic - all good changes. There are still the odd moments where the characters have silly 'comic' exchanges, and elements of the background that are slightly unbelievable, but mostly the book is based on a good scientific set-up, and Sam, Remi, and their enemies are realistic characters with believable relationships.

The novel is not perfect though. I'm still not entirely convinced by the concept of two rich treasure hunters, but that aside, the plot moves along at a good quick pace taking in plenty of action. It doesn't, however, flow quite right, particularly where it is broken up between chapters, skipping over several days. In places this may make things more believable with a more realistic portrayal of time passing, but in some places we leave the couple in peril only to turn the page and find them back at the hotel, only to be filled in on their escape in the form of a brief flashback.

Overall, certainly an improvement for this series, and I hope a sign of better things to come, but not quite back up to Cussler's old standard yet. I had been thinking this might be the point where I gave up on the Fargos, but this book has convinced me otherwise for now.

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Lost Empire

Lost Empire

Clive Cussler & Grant Blackwood

7th January 2011

Cussler and Blackwood's second adventure in the Fargo series is roughly on a par with the first - a blight on the Cussler name, and if he keeps putting his name on these mediocre efforts they will seriously damage his reputation as 'grandmaster of adventure'.

This story sees married adventurers Sam and Remi investigate a submerged bell, which leads them on a preposterous Aztec treasure hunt trailed by agents of the Mexican government. The plot, while bearing resemblance to Cussler's frequent alternative history theme, is poorly executed and relies on pilot coincidence upon coincidence to solve the puzzle.

The narrative moves slowly at first, spending much of the first half in a strange diversion that almost seems like it has been added just to pad out the length. From halfway though the pace picks up rapidly and accelerates to a point near the end where what should be a tension filled 24 hours is reduced to a couple of pages.

Stylistically too, the direction switches suddenly halfway, from purely narrative to one punctuated by hard to see illustrations of documents relevant to the story.

The main characters are still weak. Their rapport, while probably designed to make them feel more like a couple, seems fake and cheesy, and their background and wealth is just unbelievably fantastic to the point where it interferes with the suspension of disbelief. The minor characters and indeed the bad guys are barely fleshed out at all, with the exception of Selma, who is nevertheless still a stereotype.

Overall, there is still a good concept behind the novel - I'm just disappointed with the execution and feel that this story could have made a much better story if the Cussler of old had written it to star Dirk Pitt.

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Spartan Gold

Spartan Gold

Clive Cussler & Grant Blackwood

23rd April 2010

Okay, I'll admit I was fairly sceptical about this one going in. Cussler's novels have, excluding The Chase, been heading downhill for a while now, and starting yet another new series, with yet another 'co-author' (I assume this is like Clancy, where the big name comes up with an idea and the little name does the hard work of actually writing it).

The beginning backed up my idea - the main characters, Mr & Mrs Fargo, are conveniently and unbelievably rich in order to fund their treasure hunting lifestyle, and have a set up not all that unlike the Corporation in Cussler's Oregon Files series - a team of computer whizzes to back them up, training in black ops and the old friend in the CIA.

It started a little cringe worthy - the characters are two dimensional and have very little that I can identify with (except that they own iPhones, and more on that later), and just don't feel natural - they are very much like film characters - there's nothing going on inside their heads, and it's all action and no emotion. There's a dynamic between them, as always with the double-header Cusslers (Pitt/Giordino, Austin/Zavala. Dirk/Summer), and that they are married makes it a little more personal, but in places gets too annoying. One of the running gags involves Sam saying 'aren't I always' and Remi replying 'except that time when' - once is cute but it happens again and again.

In a similar vein, everywhere the characters travel they greet a local in the local language and ask them if they can speak English - exactly the same exchange just in a different language - and every time the person can speak it perfectly. Really irritating. Another irritating repetition is that every settlement is referred to as 'home to x number of souls', which to me seems an utterly bizarre way to give population data.

The novel spends a lot of time dealing with history, which is informative and possibly vital to the plot but there is too much of it - it's like every little section starts with a mini-essay on the background of the part of the world, and it's just too educational. There are also technological errors - one moment they talk on their iPhones, the next they have to navigate by 'dead reckoning' as they have no GPS, then the next they explicitly mention that their iPhones have GPS. As an iPhone user that really grated.

However, towards the end of the novel things begin to get better. The history begins to tail off and the action too after a point, leaving the plot more gripping - however the whole thing seems to speed up as well. The Fargos spend a good part of the novel working out the solutions to the first few clues, but then it takes barely any time at all to race through the last couple (and the earlier plot point about the clues not being in sequence is forgotten), which seems like the author hasn't planned these parts as well.

There's a second Fargo book coming later this year, but I'm not yet convinced that they live up to the Cussler mantle - I don't know if his novels have gone downhill or I'm just growing out of them, but since Atlantis Found things seem less believable. I'll wait and see how I feel before ordering the next book.

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