Thursday, May 11, 2006


The League of Heroes

Xavier Maumejean's The League of Heroes is one of the best books you've never heard of, I'm guessing. Originally published in France in 2002, it was made available for the first time in English in 2005 by Jean-Marc Lofficier's Black Coat Press, a small press specializing in French genre fiction in translation, particularly French pulp fiction. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll point out that I've written stories for both of Lofficier's Tales of the Shadowmen anthologies, which are packed full of French pulpy goodness.

The League of Heroes starts deceptively simple, presenting the vintage pulp-esque adventures of a very Victorian, very British Doc Savage-type called Lord Kraven who, along with Sherlock Holmes and Lord Greystoke and spymaster Phileas Fogg, protects the British empire from the machinations of the rebel Peter Pan, whose otherworldly realm of Neverland invaded Kensington Gardens during the reign of Queen Victoria. Characters from fairy tales and Victorian fiction rub elbows with historical figures, often overlaid one atop the other (rebel Indian prince Sindbad takes the role of rebel prince Nemo, facing off against loyal British privateer James Hook, and so on). Then, in the second section, everything becomes a bit more complicated, as we're introduced to the Old Man who may have merely dreamt all of these fabulous adventures, living with his son-in-law and daughter in late sixties London, disconnected from the world around them. Similar inversions and reversals continue through the later chapters, until all the walls collapse in a mind-bending final reveal that caught me completely by surprise.

Throughout the first quarter of the book, reading about Lord Kraven and the rest of the League of Heroes, I thought this was a perfect yarn for any fan of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Moore is one of the writers to whom Maumejean dedicates the novel), and I don't think that's an incorrect assessment. But as the gradual mindfuck of the later sections gradually unfolded, I came to realize it's much more than that. There's something of Philip K. Dick's reality-inversion stories here, and something of the "What-the-hell?" vibe of the last episodes of The Prisoner and, like the stories of Alan Moore which inspired it, Maumejean's novel manages to deliver thrilling adventures while at the same time presenting commentary on those kinds of adventures.

The League of Heroes is a solid read, a load of fun, and much smarter than a simple plot summary could ever suggest. I recommend it highly.

That sounds totally fuckin cool. I have to check it out.
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