Die Vol. 01: Fantasy Heartbreaker by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans (Artist) – Graphic Novel Review

Kieron Gillen has written some of the finest comic books over the past decade. When I heard that he would be penning a new project that sees D&D and Jumanji come together, I was excited–thrilled, in fact! And when the first few pieces of art were revealed, I was ecstatic. Now, nine months after I first found out about DIE, I finally got Vol. 01: Fantasy Heartbreaker. The wait has been more than worth it.

The key concept behind DIE is the kind of idea that’s bound to win most RPG nerds over, and I stick to anything that has to do with ttRPGs like a bee to an unpollinated flower, so it was a match made in heaven from the get-go. But as a self-proclaimed expert on Kieron Gillen’s work, I’m also going to draw a comparison to some of his other work here, since DIE is thematically different and contrasts quite a bit with his other major recent work, WicDiv.

First off, who are our characters? A bunch of flawed, damaged individuals in their mid forties, all of them bound together by past tragedy and trauma but disconnected in every other way that counts. Dominic/Ash is our lead in this group of five, the tall blond bloke in the middle of the last panel from the page above, his character in the RPG gameworld a tall platinum blonde with the powers of a Dictator — “a diplomat with teeth. A cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli” — definitely erring on the side of Machiavelli by the end of vol. 01.

The Dictator class has the power to control emotions with their voice; this power works kind of like Marvel’s Purple Man’s does but with a much greater degree of subtlety; it requires more ingenuity on Ash’s part, too. The other members of the party are Ash’s kid sister Angela, who plays a “cyberpunk” or Neo, which is basically a drug addict but instead of a human on crack, the Neo is addicted to Fae gold and as soon as she gets her hands on some, becomes a high-tech jet-pack wielding heavy-hitter (useless without any Fae gold, naturally); Chuck who plays the Fool and acts like one for the most part but is at the same time a pretty conniving guy; Matthew, who plays the Grief Knight, a warrior/paladin whose power comes from negative emotions; and Isabelle, the Godbinder, who used to be all edge and so wanted to be “some kind of atheist with gods for pets”. They each got a single many-sided die, each of them different from the others. The last one, the d20, went to Solomon — our sixth, the guy who came up with the game and who plays the Master.

Sccccarrrrrrrry, as Chuck would say.

Only, it’s not a game, and after rolling their dice, our party of teens disappears from the face of the world for two years, without a sign left behind. That was then, as the first panel makes clear. Now, twenty seven years later, drinking in a bar with his sister, Dominic gets a little something for his birthday — a certain familiar d20 in a package without a return address, only a criptic ‘happy birthday’ message on it. In spite of his first impulse being to smash the damned thing with a rock, Dominic decides it’s not his decision to make and instead brings the band back together to discuss options. Soon as the die is in the open, however, it doesn’t seem interested in anything the members of our party might have to say. One minute, they’re all in Chuck’s parlour and the next…

“We’re back,” Ash says in this two-page spread in the completed Vol. 01.

Shit gets real.

Now that our characters are back in the fantasy world they lost two years of their lives in, things are markedly different. The world is a hodge-podge of familiar fantasy and sci-fi tropes with their own unique spin; it has some horrifying, bleak parts but beautiful ones, as well. Unfortunately, most of those latter ones are poisoned by the past and the memories that come with it. Seems like in their past stay, our heroes made choices that were less than wise, the kind of choices that have a steep price for everyone involved.

A stark reminder of one such choice comes early on, and I won’t spoil it but let’s just say it shows a lot of Ash’s personality as well as the scope and depth of their powers. It’s a damn good scene and probably the one during which I fell in love with this story. It’s the sort of sequence that

Following the first issue, we’ve got some heavy world building in the second, then some fluffy worldbuilding in the third, as Gillen himself describes it in one of the essays at the back of the volume (Guys! There are essays in the back of this volume! How cool is that?! I hope as all hell that’s something the next volumes of Die will also have!).

More about the world is showcased, and our characters shine in action. What’s there to say about it but…what brilliant, fantastic art! Dynamic, beautiful, downright stunning. Hans explains that she “cut the book into sequences, to which I assigned a colour gradient. Each has a meaning but almost all of issue one is a preparation of the double-page spread with the big reveal of the DIE world with intoxicating reds and vivid pure colours…ho, and space. All the sequences before that are bleak, almost claustrophobic; air is heavy, dark…” See, I was going to try and explain the difference as we build up to that reveal in the first issue myself, but Stephanie does it so, so much better. This is an excerpt from her essay, “The Space Between Words” on p. 181 of DIE Vol. 01. There is a lot there, in just over a page about her artistic choices, as well as the inspirations she drew from in designing this exciting cast.

This book would not be what it is without Stephanie Hans, that’s for sure. My recommendation? Get your hands on it, and do it quick! There’s so much to unpack on your own. What I’m giving this one is a full 5/5 on Goodreads, and a 10/10 in my heart.

Before I go though, I do want to take a minute to talk about the tonal difference between this and Wic/Div. While Wic/Div has always had a feeling of hopelessness underneath its loud, colourful surface (“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead.“), it’s still vivid, filled with neon-coloured characters imbued with a sort of joyful ‘fuck you’ manner towards a world that’s out to get them.

DIE is bleak and brooding, a darker place at its very surface. It twists familiar tropes to a degree that’s barely recognizable, and it asks some fascinating questions about our relationship with RPGs not only in terms of our agency inside these fantasy worlds but also what the effects of that agency are on us. It’s the sort of delightful, “when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back” logic I have a deep appreciation for. The answers…well, I’m looking forward to delving into those, myself.

Thanks for reading!

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett – Book Review

What you’ll get from a Terry Pratchett novel often corroborates to the work you put into reading it. If you’re looking for witty entertainment and humour, you’ll find them in spades, on the outermost layer of virtually all of his novels. When you dig in, there is so much more. Take Men At Arms, for example.

Pratchett’s fifteenth Discworld novel is about the dangers inherent to possessing power, in this here novel in the role of “the gonne”. It’s about racial conflict and how senseless it is. Prejudice, too. (Trolls are guilty. What for? They’re trolls! They’re guilty of something!) It’s about wolves, how they are, and how dogs think they are. It’s about a man who loves his job and feels like he has to give it up in order to be something else, and the lesson he learns.

But at the end of the day, it’s about another man, a simple man, a man trying to sell his sausages at prices that might as well be cutting his own throat.

For Captain Samuel Vimes, things are changing. Commander of the Night Watch, going through his last days on the force before his wedding to the richest noblewoman in Ankh-Morpork, Vimes is understandably a wee bit out of it. But fear not, the good old captain still has a few tricks left up his sleeve. Some of his story beats were delightfully subversive to ye oldé detective cliché, courtesy of the masterful Pratchett twists. In a moment familiar to all fans of detective stories and bad 80s cop movies in particular, Vetinari (Patrician of the city and scariest, cleverest, Machiavelliest man alive) demands that Vimes hand over his sword and badge. It’s funny but it serves to do more than just lark on a genre mainstay; it plays off of what we know about both Vimes and Vetinari’s characters, the one pushing the other’s strings. But even Vetinari isn’t immune to the occasional miscalculation. While attempting to manipulate the good captain, he pushes a shred too far. The result? We get to see the great Patrician squirm for a minute there.

Men At Arms had a few unexpected gut punches. Character deaths came sudden and unexpected, jarring me awake from what often felt like a pleasant reverie filled with Pratchett’s signature humor. Death, or the threat of it can certainly sober most readers up and get the grey matter flowing.

Satire of racial hatred feels poignant, true to Pratchett’s style.  Trolls and dwarves are enemies, and humans see both as equally bad. The Watch’s policy when it comes to crimes, I already mentioned at the start of this review. A man who lives by that philosophy is Vimes’s counterpart, Day Watch Captain Quirke. He’s another character worth keeping an eye on. Quirke is a sort of the anti-Vimes, a lazy, uncaring slob who couldn’t solve a murder if it was his own, and the perpetrator was stabbing him head-on. I feel like Pratchett is going to do something interesting with this one, though.

I absolutely loved the new recruits, three exemplary Lance-Constables of the Watch – the dwarf Cuddy, the troll Detritus and the were…woman Angua. Detritus is the closest yet we’ve narratively been to a troll in the Discworld, and thanks to him we learn a lot about this race of sentient rocks – did you know, for example, that they have silicone brains? Or that they are really quite smart, long as you make sure their brains are cooled down. No, neither did I. Cuddy is fantastic and I loved every minute with him; the two together make for one hell of a funny duo, kind of like Legolas and Gimli in Lord of the Rings. They start from a point of fond dislike over a history of racial hate, only to realize they have a lot more in common than they’d like to admit. And then, eventually, friendship!

Ankh-Morpork is as vibrant as ever. All its guilds, its different cultures and factions are as much a gunpowder keg as always, and the way it all blows up this time around presents a hell of a good story. One of my favourites, in fact. For that reason, I give Men at Arms a score of 5/5!

You’ll enjoy this book if:

  • You know what’s good for you.
  • And more! Prob’ly.

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley – Book Review

This is an outtake from my booknest.eu review of Ben Galley’s Heart of Stone. Click here for the full post.

Ben Galley’s The Heart of Stone matters. It shows that chains can be broken, that stories have a profound effect on how we humans perceive the world and what actions we take, and it has something to say about vengeance, justice and mistaking one for the other.

I’m a sucker for exemplary, complex characters and Heart of Stone has them in spades. First and foremost, the owner of the eponymous heart of stone itself, our golem Task. After four hundred years of destruction and slaughter over hundreds of battlefields in dozens of wars, Task still has an untapped fount of compassion and empathy for these creatures of flesh and bone that he’s been forced to kill by the will of his many masters. He is no dumb brute but an intelligent creature, challenged continually by the purpose for which he was made – to be the perfectly obedient war machine, a harbinger of death. This is, to the surprise of no one who has taken even a cursory glance at the blurb, one of the leading conflicts in the novel.

Yet more complex is the character of Ellia. She is one of those characters who will remain with me a long time, like Peter F. Hamilton’s Angela Tramelo (Great North Road) or Ken Follett’s Augusta Pilaster (A Dangerous Fortune). Ellia is a noblewoman whose loyalties aren’t clear-cut to begin with and only get murkier as the plot progresses. Ellia is the architect (pun intended, for the knowing) of most of what happens during the novel, using her wits to gain the upper hand over generals, lords, councillors and religious fanatics. Fuelled by horrific events of her past, the path Ellia chooses to pursue is understandable.

Continued on booknest.eu. #Everythingiscontent #Evencontentoveronotherblogs

Articles Worth Looking At (The Week of 17 June)

Hullo, everyone! Today, I would like to share a few of my favourite articles from across the internet! #EverythingIsContent!

I’ve been reading Gene Wolfe and it’s been a beautiful adventure. The Shadow of the Torturer is complex and full of mystery, a world far in our future, dark and hard, subjected to rules and laws I haven’t begun to grasp. For anyone who, like me, has an interest in reading Wolfe’s work, Neil Gaiman has offered up this guide: https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/neil-gaiman-gene-wolfe-folio-society/

This key to Wolfe’s work goes well beyond The Book of the New Sun and it’s worth the read if you want to get familiarised with the works of one of the most lauded Grandmasters of SFF.

There may not be a wrong way to read a book, but if you will indulge me, I will offer advice on how to read the books of Gene Wolfe. It helps to have a key, or it can. The first book of his I learnt to read was the novel Peace. The first time I read it, in my late teens, I read a gentle memoir of Midwestern life. The second time, in my early twenties, I discovered that if, as you read it, you realize that its narrator has been dead for many years, and you look for deaths in the text, particularly deaths he might have been in some way involved in, the shape of the novel changes. It becomes darker and more precise. I had learnt that, in reading Wolfe, every word matters.

If you’re feeling an itch far less literary, something more based in the land of fantasy gaming — whether computer of role-playing tabletop — then perhaps you’ll be interested to learn more about Larian Studios and Wizards of the Coast‘s wonderful collaboration in bringing the much hoped-for third game in the Baldur’s Gate series. Great changes are afoot for the ranger class but that’s far from the only thing discussed in this podcast/article, published by Kotaku.

One of the things that’s been nice is that [Baldur’s Gate 3 developer Larian and D&D steward Wizards of the Coast] have a very similar design culture. So there was one instance where, as we look at our character classes, we look at feedback we get in the tabletop space. There was one class we were working on at that got a lot of negative feedback, so I shot an email over to Nick [Pechenin, systems designer] about “Hey, we’re looking at making some changes, potentially playtesting some new material for this class in tabletop, just to let you guys know.” And he actually got back to me and said, “Hey for this class, actually that same exact issue has come up, and here’s what we’re looking at doing.” It was almost like we had already shared notes.

I love the team at Larian Studios and I’m really fond of the excellent work Wizard of the Coast has been doing with D&D 5e. Their collaboration is a recipe for greatness. What strategems will they deploy in order to make mindflayers of us all?

Speaking of strategems, I came across a six-part series that I’ve only began exploring, about a historian’s views on The Siege of Gondor. I’m a large history nerd and this is such an illuminating read, with a lot of strategic terms to educate the reader. I could read a book by Bret Devereaux talking through all the different engagements from Lord of the Rings without any trouble at all.

…the immediate operational goal of Sauron’s army is getting the army, intact, to Minas Tirith to lay siege to it; in comparison, the strategic goal of the campaign is the destruction of the Kingdom of Gondor through the capture of its capital and primary defense (Minas Tirith).

This set of objectives and the means chosen to achieve them are immediately historically plausible.  Pre-modern states – like the Kingdom of Gondor – often had a very limited administrative apparatus which was focused in a single place (it is hard to distribute your administration when the best communications technology you have is “man on horse”).  The destruction of that administrative center might very well be enough to end the war.

What else, what else?

Sea of Solitude image, courtesy of RPS

Sea of Solitude looks promising enough, doesn’t it? Apparently, it’s rather a unique game in that it aims to tell a deeply personal story about solitude, loneliness; creator Cornelia Geppert’s purpose is to explore the effect of these through the interactive medium. An article by RockPaperShotgun goes in-depth:

The screen is deliberately and serenely free of any user interface or button prompts. Being alone can be quite beautiful. The clue is in the title, Geppert says. “Solitude is for me the positive form of being alone.”

But at its heart Sea Of Solitude is exploring loneliness. One of the things I liked most was that at the very start Kay said to herself: “I have family. I have friends. And yet here I am, feeling lonely. Again.” There is an understanding that, just as being by yourself is not synonymous with being lonely, you can be surrounded by loved ones and still experience loneliness. In the immediate aftermath of my most recent break up, I found it difficult to talk to anyone when I was sad about it. Geppert related. She hummed agreement. “Mmmm! You feel lonely even though the other person is right in front of you telling you how much he loves you.”

Some of these monsters are, Geppert explained, humans at their core, changed by their extreme loneliness. It is changing Kay too: she is covered in black fur, and her eyes are red. In Geppert’s first concept she imagined scribbling with pen on paper to just let the anger and frustration out, creating a bundle of strange lines. “You always struggle with, ‘Am I wrong? What is going on? I’m so different from everybody else.’ When you feel lonely you always feel excluded,” Geppert said. “That was very clear for me so I wanted to tell the story like: loneliness represented as monsters.”

I don’t know about you lot but to me, this sounds like a wonderful way to explore and add to the conversation about human loneliness. After reading this article, I’m terribly excited to see how Sea of Solitude does.

That’s it for this week, the most interesting articles I read on the Internet. Hope you enjoyed some or all of them, dear reader! Until next time.

Rosamund Pike is Moiraine Damodred in Amazon’s Wheel of Time series!

…And I couldn’t be more excited!

One of the most formative works of fantasy fiction from my childhood and teenage years is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I love the series, I’ve reread the first several books more than once and there are few characters that I loved more than Moiraine Damodred.

When news broke that Amazon would attempt to duplicate HBO’s roaring success by banking on its own adaptation of the series that’s as much of a linchpin in the fantasy community as A Song of Ice and Fire was prior to 2010, I was estatic to see which actors would be tapped for the roles of some of my all-time favourite characters…as well as some of the most annoying characters I can think of. I’m still anxious to see this massive work of fiction translated to the big screen…but an actress of Rosamund Pike’s caliber is a step in the right direction.

She certainly has the gravitas, and the ageless look about her. True, not how I imagined her but now that I know the casting folks over at Amazon have picked her, I am very, very excited to see what she has to offer.

I can’t wait to see how this show looks. And psyke! Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan’s widow are both attached to the project as consulting producers, which makes me very hopeful the Amazon series will remain true to the books in spirit and feeling, while cutting all the unpalatable mid-section stuff from the books. Y’all fans of the Wheel of Time know what I’m talking about, don’t feign ignorance.

Who else is excited for this?!

And yup, that’s about it from me for today. Your daily dose of #everythingiscontent. Don’t forget to like and follow me for more excited hooting, book reviewing, graphic novel shennanigans (I read Monstress Vol. 02 and I’ll be writing about that veeeery soon!), and more!

Darkest Dungeon In-Depth: Introduction and Overview — Everything is Resource Management

Hullo, everyone, and welcome back to the recurring topic of this blog nowadays, which is indeed nothing less than the much-loved aphorism, #EverythingIsContent.

This one is in video form! But if you’ve got preference for reading, after the embedded link, I’ll also drop my script — which is most of the vid but not all of it. I tend to go off-script whenever genius strikes!

The Script

Hello and welcome to Darkest Dungeon In-Depth

I’ve spent dozens of hours over the last several weeks playing Darkest Dungeon; spending so long with one game over such a short period has lit in me the desire to take a deep dive into the many facets of this excellent game of tactics, survival and Lovecraftian horror. This I will do in a series of videos released twice weekly, over the next few weeks. Ever since before it was officially released, I’ve thought that Darkest Dungeon is truly an exceptional game, and once I heard about the announcement of the sequel, I realised I’d never actually properly finished it. The thing is – it’s a massive game, especially if, like me, you don’t want to just go through the easier, “Radiant” option; no, a game like this deserves an in-depth dive, in more ways than one. I’ve spent over a hundred hours playing it.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to pretend I’m a good player – I’ve made more mistakes than I’d like, but I am learning, and I have put a of research in each of the different sections of what will, a few weeks from now, turn out to be a fairly long mega-video. Without further ado, let’s get into part 1—the overview.

01: Introduction and Overview      

Darkest Dungeon is, at its core, a game of resource management. These resources come in many forms: first and foremost, they come in the form of the dozens of adventurers you go through over the extent of your journey into the Ancestor’s Estate. In the Hamlet, the resources you manage are gold, and the four types of relics with which buildings are upgraded: portraits, crests, deeds and busts. And in each expedition you send your weekly group of adventurers, the resources you manage range from consumables, like bandages and medicinal herbs, to the very limited inventory space which will force you, time and time again, to decide between riches, baubles, trinkets and the other type of currency mentioned earlier.

Resource management goes very deep indeed, where characters are concerned. Every class of characters has their strengths and weaknesses – the leper delivers devastating blows but his accuracy is a problem, especially on higher level expeditions; the hellion has the ability to buff herself and a reach unlike most other melee characters, as well as take on three enemies at once in a massive assault with her glaive but at the cost of lowered damage and speed; and the vestal…well, okay, she’s the perfect virtuous healing machine. But this isn’t meant to go into the strengths and weaknesses of the different classes, but rather to reinforce my statement – everything is resource management. The weaknesses I discussed can be neutralised with the use of trinkets, as well as the locking in of positive quirks.

Trinkets, I think, are self-explanatory. What’s interesting about them is that the majority have not only a beneficiary effect, but also introduce some new weakness, taking away from characters’ speed, or just about anything else that can negatively impact an adventurer. Perks of the positive variety are  somewhat more interesting, and they can allow for a good deal of hair-thin customization.

Using one of the buildings in town, the medical ward, you can strap on the characters to fancy leather chairs and prod them with needless until the positive quirk is ‘locked in’ i.e. it won’t ever be exchanged by something useless at the end of an expedition. The process is obscenely expensive – which is why I only began locking in positive quirks of characters once they hit resolve level 5, i.e. became champions of their class. Definitely because I hadn’t yet realized that was a possibility by that time, nope.

To conclude on the topic of the original Negative quirks range from mildly annoying to seriously debilitating, depending entirely on randomness. You can remove the

So much for quirks, negative or positive.

Resource management in town is…kind of a pain, sometimes. Fully upgrading any one building in the Hamlet costs hundreds of crests and one additional of the collectible ancestral resources. Paintings are the most rare of these, and are a nightmare to carry, as they stack in threes. For reference, crests stack in twelves, while busts and deeds stack in sixes in your inventory during an expedition. Not that there aren’t plenty of each, and as you’ll be going on dozens of expeditions –even hundreds – the Hamlet will expand before your eyes. In my view, the best buildings to work on are the blacksmith, the guild hall and the recruitment coach, on account of the fact that upgrading the first two allows for unlocking higher level skills, armor and weapon upgrades, as well as cheaper prices in terms of these upgrades. With these upgraded, the coach can in turn be upgraded in order to offer a chance of recruitment of more experienced adventurers, who come in with better gear and access to all combat skills at the level they’re recruited at. While you’ll never recruit a character above resolve level 3, these still save a bunch of money in terms of investing into gear and skill upgrades.

So much for resource management in town. Coming next, Apprentice and Veteran expeditions.

Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2)

Hullo and welcome to this tiny review, in which I will bitch and moan about Fool Moon for a wee bit! Why? Because #EverythingIsContent !

I listened to James Masters’s reading of the first Harry Dresden novel almost two years ago — my Goodreads shelf tells me I read it on June 29, 2017 — and I enjoyed it deeply. Here was the humble beginning of a likable protagonist, the lead of a first-person novel that defines more than any other work of fiction the look of today’s urban fantasy. To top it all off? I have it on good authority that James Masters, over the sixteen or so books in the series, makes the character and series his own with a remarkable audio performance.

So there I was, excited to know more; I quickly got Fool Moon, I started it and somewhere half-way along the book, I pressed pause and did not touch it for nearly two years. Why?

Because of Murphy.

The way she was written in the first one didn’t make much of an impression. Cool, the competent detective prototype that’s common enough in this urban fantasy subgenre we so adore. She wasn’t memorable enough next to Harry, his talking skull and dangerous businessman and mafioso John Marcone.

In Fool Moon, Murphy is impossible to stomach. She doesn’t act like a competent cop, investigating ritualistic murders that seem to have been committed by some sort of a beast, instead choosing to jump to one wrong conclusion after another without any solid evidence. She goes as far as to arrest Harry Dresden, refusing to trust him even a long, long time after a menagerie of events proves his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Murphy acts as judge, jury and executioner without anything but circumstantial evidence and facts unrelated to one another.

How does Dresden accept her accussations and behaviour? He feels bad. Doesn’t get annoyed at her, doesn’t get rightfully pissed, he feels guilty for having to keep secrets from her; secrets that, if he shares with a non-wizardy person, he’ll be commiting a crime punishable by death! She arrests him, refuses to trust him and he nods along with it, feeling bad for himself and for her. God dammit, Harry, get a grip!

This was a relationship that completely broke my immersion from what was otherwise a really interesting novel about magic and werewolves. And there’s a lot of good werewolf stuff here. Five types of the beasts! A talking skeletal head! The sexy journalist lady from the occultist paper that Harry has a fun semi-relationship with! Some sweet action scenes!

And I could barely enjoy all of these because Murphy’s relationship with Harry went against everything I know about how human relationships function, in fiction or otherwise. It’s kinda funny, if you think about it.

Except, it isn’t.

What’s important, however, is that it’s all uphill from here on out! All the Dresden fans agree (or most of them, anyway) that Fool Moon is the weakest in the series. I’m looking forward to seeing what heights the series will offer next.

Would I recommend this novel? Not by itself. As a stepping stone to get to know more about The Dresden Files? It has some interesting aspects. But once I read the rest of the series, I will probably come back to this review and give one last verdict as to whether this is, in fact, important enough to read despite the glaringly bad relationship between Dresden and Murphy.

History Hour: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

Hullo, friends, frenemies and followers! I’ve been meaning to post a lot more here — obviously without much tangible result, so from this point onward I’ll be going with the wonderful slogan of #EverythingIsContent! Shocker, I know.

Today’s content: the gigantic historical novel that is William L. Shirer’s masterpiece, the best known history of Nazi Germany, originally published in 1960, just fifteen years after the end of World War II.

Shirer is interesting in that he was if not a player in much of what transpired over the Nazification of Germany, then an observer; an American journalist stationed in Berlin for the early years of Hitler’s rule and for much of the war period as well. His own observations make their way into this sprawling, 1600-page epic and they never seem out of place, never irrelevant or historically inaccurate. William L. Shirer does not seek to be objective and judge this period fairly — and where the bloodstained rise of Nazism is concerned, I’m more than happy to say, “Fuck any pretence at objectivity” — but he does look into so many of the aspects that make possible first the rise, and then the fall, of Hitler’s Reich. If ever you’ve needed proof that collision, rather than causation, defines social order (for more on this topic, read my summary of Caroline Levine’s Forms ), the rise of Nazi Germany is a compelling reading in favour of the former argument.

What did I learn from this novel?

Much of the bloodiest period of history came about thanks to in-fighting, backstabbing, supreme egoism and selfishness that often had nothing to do with Nazis other than giving Hitler and his cronies the kind of possibility every would-be authoritarian regime could only wish for.

Hitler’s charisma is no small thing, and has certainly played its role; but a bigger role by far is the sick personal ambition of men without great skill or talent, and not a whit of understanding. Men like Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher, like dozens of military men from captains to generals, all the way to field marshals. Don’t even get me started on the vast majority of degenerate high-ranking Nazi officers, or at the learned men in universities who, rather than objecting to the destruction of basic scientific principles along with basic human decencies, bowed down and allowed the shrine of knowledge to be raped in such a profane way. Did you know Nazis propagated that much of physical science was untrue, that they twisted principles just because they were discovered by Jewish scientists and researchers? Most of the faculty at universities said nothing, even when they could have. Even when they should have.

I could write four thousand words, forty thousand words and I would barely scratch the gist of this book. It’s good, it’s written really well, and a lot of historians hate it: What more do you need?!

As to the why behind certain historians’ dislike for this massive work of history — I don’t quite know why that is. Perhaps it’s Shirer’s decision not to mask in the slightest his hatred for Nazi ideology. Perhaps it’s the fact that his novel sold so well. But he does not lack for first-hand historical sources — the diaries of so many of the Nazi High Command, as well as many others, most notably that of Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian foreign minister and Mussolini’s son-in-law. I might look into a translation of Ciano’s diary, in fact, since it’s a fascinating read and shows a side to Italian-German relations that is much more multi-faceted than I ever expected.

I listened to this in audiobook form because…history is easier to consume this way, for me. I absolutely recommend this, and I think any politically conscious citizen of the world could use to see the myriad processes that led to the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany.

Thank you, reader, for your time!