In 1932, a scientist flipped a switch on a device without quite knowing what it would do. The device created a bunch of super-powered humans around the world, super-powered humans who are a lot like the X-Men. In Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century, we see an alternate history of the twentieth century, the way it would have played out if there had been superheroes running around the battlefields of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. There’s even a cheeky cameo by one Stanley Martin Lieber.
Fogg has been “out in the cold” for years when his old partner, Oblivion. They worked for the Bureau of Superannuated Affairs during the War and now, the Old Man, needs to talk to Fogg about some unfinished matters. Being spies, Fogg and Oblivion don’t give away much. It’s a little hard to figure out what’s going on from their conversation. Thankfully, this book is composed mostly in flashbacks that take us from Fogg’s childhood to his recruitment, to World War II, and beyond. By the end of the book, we get a completely different history of an entire century. I loved this gritty retelling of history so much!
Throughout the book, as Fogg and Oblivion pop up in history, Fogg constantly wonders about what makes a hero. From 1936, each of the major powers field what they call Übermenschen or superheroes or the changed. The Germans have Schneesturm (Snow Storm) and Machertraum (Dream Maker) and Wulfmann (Wolfman). The Russians have the Red Sickle and Rusalka and Koshchei the Deathless. The Americans have Tigerman, Whirlwind, and the Green Gunman. There’s even a brilliant appearance of a super-powered Jewish Pole during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The British have their share of superheroes, but they play a different game. Where other countries send their super-powered into the field, the British watch, take notes, and wait. Fogg is constantly told not to interfere, which goes against his instincts to save lives. His orders to stay out of sight really do a number on his psyche. It’s little wonder that Oblivion finds Fogg in a bar.
Through The Violent Century mostly looks back at Fogg’s past and the violent twentieth century, Tidhar brings everything to a stunning and satisfying conclusion. This book had me hooked from the beginning. It’s full of cameos and hints at our history that I loved puzzling out, on top of a fascinating story with terrific characters. This book is a wonderful adventure.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.