The Crow: Hellbound
(HarperCollins, $15.00, 238 pages, trade paperback, 2001.)
A handful of years ago, the brains at HarperCollins decided to try
something a little different. They set out to publish several media
tie-in novels following the relative The Crow. That in itself is, of course,
nothing special or different. The twist they put upon it was to hire
bigger name authors than usually adorn the works in this subgenre. The
result is both exciting (the best media fiction I've ever read) and
disappointing (the best media fiction I've ever read).
of Brandon Lee's film
Let's begin with basics: Dren the Liar, a demon, has been given a shot
at salvation. He has twenty-four hours to save one soul. If he succeeds
(not so easy when various demons seek to plunge you back into the fiery
depths), he gets his wings. Billy and Amy are two orphans who have been
released from state welfare and unleashed unto the world at large. Billy
has been a drug mule for several years but wants no more of the underworld
life. He wants to keep his shining angel shining (that would be Amy).
Throw in a vengeful Satanist and the vengeful powers of the Crow, add
mayhem, stir well.
The opening pages hit me as such a pleasant surprise. Though I try
to approach every book I read with an open mind, I admit that in this
case I kept seeing the spectre of media fiction lurking from the pages.
However, the writing initially leaped out as far more imaginative, descriptive,
and evocative than most media fiction fare. A very promising start,
Unfortunately, the promise was not fulfilled. Though the writing continued
to be consistently of high quality, the story itself and what the author
could do with it became all too limited. The strict boundaries imposed
by media fiction overwhelmed the glimmers of hope that I saw. For a
while, I thought the story would play out differently than it was preordained
to do. Would the editors really let this talented author off the leash?
Alas, no. This is a story belonging to The Crow and, no matter
how hard an author tries to hide that fact, the story must follow set
guidelines. This is the reason media fiction does so little for me.
Attanasio does a wonderful high-wire act, trying to keep us interested.
We pop in and out of practically every character in the book, but because
the novel is not permitted to go beyond a certain number of words, we
never get too much depth from these experiences. In fact, at times,
it seemed Attanasio was padding the book just to make it feel like $15.00's
The story plays out exactly as it must (and thus, for a change, I can
divulge much of the tale without spoiling a thing). Billy dies a terrible
death. He becomes the Crow. He avenges himself and saves his love. All
magically ends happy.
There are plenty of golden moments. My favourite was an appearance
by Satan, depicted as a little child -- not a new idea but expertly
handled here. Unfortunately, to say it yet again, anything good in the
novel is overshadowed by the all-too blatant confines of the genre.
I suppose those who love media fiction find safety in the familiarity
of the territory. I imagine that those who read Star Trek novels
-- or Star Wars, Warhammer or any of the others -- take
pleasure in knowing, more or less, exactly what they are getting. They
love their characters and want to see further adventures that don't
stray too far from the beaten path. To those readers, I apologize.
In the end, I conclude this review much as I did for the last media
novel I reviewed. To those who like this kind of thing, guess what?
You're going to like this kind of thing. For the rest of us, don't bother.
Review by Stuart Jaffe.