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The Crow: Hellbound

by AA Attanasio

(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 cover scansuccess of Brandon Lee's film 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).

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, indeed.

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 worth.

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.

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