Proxies of Fate by Matthew Moses
A warlord of a predatory race, the reptilian Krush, leads his fleet towards his next juicy, undefended target: the Earth of the 1930s. In his way stands a representative of an ancient race of legendary powers, the Theria. To resolve the stalemate, they agree that they should each select one member of the human race to act as a proxy to decide the fate of the planet in single combat. The two proxies would each receive the essence of their alien sponsors, giving them different ranges of special abilities.
The proxies are selected and transformed on opposite sides of the world. The Krush select Li Chen, a Chinese teenager in a Manchuria under the iron grip of Japanese occupation. The Therian chooses Chris Donner, a penniless farmer in the dustbowl of the central USA during the Great Depression. Both develop their strange abilities; Li Chen becomes a huge being with almost invulnerable skin, great speed and appalling strength, who can defeat entire armies single-handedly. Donner becomes a slight, ghostly figure with a range of paranormal powers, including healing, telekinesis and levitation. Both focus on their tragic local circumstances, trying to help their fellow men, with mixed results. Only at the end of the book do they discover each other's existence and come together in a climactic battle.
This novel is a rather puzzling mixture of comic-strip plot and action with what is clearly a great deal of background research into the two different environments. I don't claim to be knowledgeable about either historical setting, but what I do have some knowledge of (the weapons of the Japanese army) appears accurate and the settings are carefully drawn, detailed and convincing. This is the major strength of the book. The time taken over the stories of the two proxies also helps to develop their characters and enlist the sympathy of the reader for both of them. These two plus points were enough to keep me reading to the end, despite some flaws in the writing.
The first problem to become obvious is the florid and overwritten style of many descriptive passages, sometimes using words which had me reaching for a dictionary. For example (page 166):
"Crimson dawn colored the heavens over Hsinking. Across the horizon, purple clouds obscured the stirring sun while the stars of twilight sank into the empyrean sea. The cool breath of Pangu blew from the scarlet east, setting myriad wind chimes ringing throughout the capital, signalling approaching morn."
And (page 319 - describing a bombing raid);
"Like fatalistic einherjar returned from Valhalla on that final drive to Vigrior, umbral craft sailed through the ether, laden with weapons callously loosed upon the district."
The other issue I have with the writing is the author's weak grasp of sentence construction. A couple of examples, the first from page 318:
"Unable to contain the beast, permission was granted to firebomb the ward."
This makes no sense. Who was unable to contain the beast? Who asked for permission? What the author meant was "Unable to contain the beast, the Army commander obtained permission to firebomb the ward." Yet this key individual was never mentioned. Another example, on page 343:
"Corrupted by the laelap, twisted into the beast, Donner witnessed Li Chen take up the mantle of championů"
This reads as if Donner had been corrupted and twisted, but the author actually meant Li Chen. This kind of error frequently occurs.
My final gripe is a lack of consistency in the characteristics of the two proxies, especially Donner. In their final battle he engages in fisticuffs with Li Chen, which seems absurd in the context of their respective abilities.
The author's writing shows some promise, but he would benefit from a much stricter editor.
(An extract from my SFF blog)