Book Review: Triumff, Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett

It is unfortunately quite tempting simply to list Mr. Abnett’s extensive body of work-for-hire, to snidely imply (or even to declare outright) that he is therefore a hack, and then invite the reader to draw the appropriate conclusion about this original work.

Tempting, but not (entirely) fair. Even scribblers, after all, must eat and pay bills. And better, always, to judge a work by its own merits than by pedigree.

I can say this in praise of it: Triumff, Her Majesty’s Hero is a quick, breezy read, mostly amusing, and it is set in an interesting and unique alternate history.

The rest of what I have to say about it is not praise. Alas.

The interesting background is also extremely inconsistent. This may be intentional on Abnett’s part — most of the inconsistency seems to come from a clear choice: “be consistent, or go for the laugh”; and he goes for the laugh every time. In a spoof, this would work, but Triumff is also a white-knuckle thriller, and internal inconsistencies and illogicalities conflict with this end. Or at least undercut its effectiveness.

Another problem is characterization. Nearly everyone who is not the eponymous protagonist aspires to one-dimensionality, most being mere collections of attributes with a name attached. And everyone who is the protagonist, Sir Rupert Triumff, is a collection of wildly inconsistent attributes that fail to cohere into a memorable character, or even a caricature. Is he a drunken oaf? A lovable rogue? A dissipated gentleman? A quick-witted, experienced spy? A bold adventuring explorer? An upperclass twit? A noble guardian of the superior non-West against the rapacious and destructive an all-but-evil western world? The answer is any of the foregoing which serves the present scene, subject to renegotiation in any and all future scenes.

Which is a bit surprising, as Abnett claims Triumff has been residing in his head for two decades or more. One would hope for a more memorable character, considering that.

Further marring what was meant to be, and ought to have been, a light-footed romp full of delights is the plot construction. That the A plot and the B plot are entirely unrelated and seem to be together in the same book only due to a shotgun marriage would not, in the normal course of things, be a deal breaker. Unfortunately, the A plot, while serviceable in terms of content, is constructed in a way that is jarringly discordant with the world in which it takes place.

Triumff lives in a world in which Great Britain and Spain allied under Elizabeth I, Britain became dominant in the world through use of magic, and still rules nearly all in 2009 under the reign of Elizabeth XXX (go ahead, snicker, it’s certainly intentional), with no technological advancement, and only slight magical advancement over Liz I’s period. (There is technological advancement elsewhere, and a very funny if highly unlikely reference to VisageBook.) So, when I tell you that the plot is structured like the unholy child of modern comic book “decompressed storytelling” and Dan Brown, you have some idea how well the ticking bomb climax, which takes up nearly a third of the total novel, fits with the book’s milieu — which is to say, it doesn’t.

Which is further to say that Triumff, Her Majesty’s Hero is thoroughly contemporary in the most irritating, thoughtless, and (though I’ve not dealt with this aspect) politically correct ways possible.

A pity, too, because the premise had much potential. Alas, the result is only superficially diverting and, apart from a few very funny lines, will quickly fade from memory.

[Cross posted to GoodReads.]