Updated: Apr 17
Ever wanted to pit two of your favourite books in a no holds barred Mad Max Thunderdome style deathmatch? No? Okay well how about two books that might cause you to stop and watch if they got into a back-alley pub brawl? Good news because I’m here for all your scrappy cage fight needs.
Yes, this brand new series is all about two books entering a fight to the death. Character v character, plot v plot, themes crashing against settings in an all-out street brawl where there’s only going to be one winner… you, the reader!
So, as I don my referee uniform, test out my whistle and get myself ready for this premiere showdown let’s meet our two fighters.
In one corner, we’ve got a new contender. Breaking into the market in 2021, this guy’s following on from the runaway success of his older brother Ready Player One. He’s all about nostalgia, he’s practically brimming with the stuff. Armada’s ready to rumble and he’s bringing enough arcade vibes and wicked eighties tunes to rock the house.
In another corner, we’ve got an older veteran of cage fights. Instead of all that reminiscing about the good old days and nostalgia, this guy’s hitting you with something new, something fresh, something off the wall. Neverwhere’s been around the block a couple of times, and he’s got the tricks to show this youngster a real scrap.
Now that I’ve got my shirt the right way around and haven’t choked on the whistle yet, let’s get ready to rumble!
Round 1: Plot
The first attack comes from Armada. It’s not an overly complex plot to understand just the one-two counterpunch of video games and the standard wish-fulfilment of a typical YA novel. The main character is highschooler Zack Lightman who spends all this time playing this incredibly popular online video game that turns out to be more than just a video game.
It turns out the military has been using it as a recruitment and training tool for when aliens arrive to wreck the place up. Surprising no one that’s read a book before, Zack Lightman is revealed to be the chosen one and recruited to help fight off the invading force. Yes, it is pretty much the same plot as The Last Starfighter.
Neverwhere fires back with an imaginative intriguing plot in the vein of your classic fish out of water story. Young businessman Richard Mayhew discovers a fantastical world below the streets of London after one single act of kindness for a stranger. The world below is full of weird and wonderful characters like the sadistic duo of Mister Vandemar and Mister Croup.
This round’s dead easy. Creativity and wackiness win over a blatant copy of a beloved 80’s film banking on nostalgia. The fact they bring it up in the book doesn’t excuse it. Round one goes to Neverwhere.
Round 2: Characters
Neverwhere’s characters are much like the plot of the book they inhabit. They’re a little off the wall and kooky yet endlessly intriguing the more you learn about them. The elusive Hunter, a figure held in awe by many a citizen of this world, the aforementioned assassins Mister Vandemar and Mister Croup and one of the main characters, Door, are just some of the standouts.
In Gaiman’s signature style, the characters really feel like they’ve had their own lives and history prior to this story and they’re really trying not to get too involved in that one weird guy.
In comparison to that one-two killer combo, Armada can’t offer much more than a weak defence. Besides just being a more obnoxious and whinier Alex Rogan, Zack Lightman feels just so one dimensional. We get it, he lost his dad, he plays video games and he’s big into the eighties because that’s Ernst Clines’ comfort zone… I mean because his dad was.
I had the same problem with Ready Player One in that I couldn’t connect with either of these guys as the main character.
The other characters aren’t much better. They feel like they’re just there for the purpose of the plot unlike the characters in Neverwhere.
Chalk up round two to Neverwhere.
Round 3: Setting
Coming into this third and final round and the last two rounds seem to really have taken it out of Armada. They’ve been resoundingly beaten on the character and plot fronts so is setting the turning point for them?
Like with the characters and plot it’s lacklustre and serviceable enough but there’s really nothing exciting or novel (pardon the pun) about the setting. It’s a typical American small town in the middle of nowhere being pushed into the spotlight when extra-terrestrials arrive. It could be interesting, but we’re never given time to explore it before we’re whisked off into space.
Neverwhere’s setting is a lot more interesting and immersive. It’s a twisted reflection of London above for people that have slipped through the cracks. There’s nothing structured or sensible about this world like London Above. It’s a hodgepodge, ramshackle cobbling together of all sorts of eras of history and cultures and I love it.
It’s a place, like the novel’s characters, that have its own life and humanity inherently built into the setting. Every part feels individual and personalised to that specific place thanks in no small part to the great writing of Neil Gaiman.
With that, it looks like Neverwhere’s delivered the knockout punch, a real K.O. blow and Armada is out for the count. The whistle’s blown, no need to count to ten it’s all over. The winner by unanimous decision is NEVERWHERE!
No big surprise there, the winner was more imaginative, more interesting and just felt like it had more life and vibrancy to it rather than a basic story ripped from a popular film and pumped full of nostalgia to the brim.
To be fair to Armada, I enjoyed it more than Ready Player One, but it just feels hollow and soulless when you compare it against all these other works.
That was a whole lot of fun, wasn’t it? Now that the excitement is over and the body has been cleared away, all that’s left to do is start scrubbing down the cage and picking out the two next fighters.
Which books do you want to see locked in the cage next time around? Let me know down below.
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