Robert Kroese: Mercury Rises

Robert Kroese’s Mercury Rises deftly hits the spot on the “humorous contemporary fantasy” spectrum roughly halfway between Good Omens and late period Tom Holt. Awash in cheerfully anarchonistic angels, lengthy footnotes, and geek in-jokes – there’s a lengthy Settlers of Catan gag that goes down when angelic smartass Mercury tries to bum a lunch off floating zookeeper Noah – the book is self-consciously smart-alecky. And that’s not always a bad thing.

The plot bounces back and for between ancient Babylon, where Mercury is working as a sort of logistics officer for ziggurat-obsessed angel Tiamat as she tries to shepherd the Babylonian civilization, and the modern day, where evil billionaire Horace Finch is attempting to find out how the universe ticks by potentially unraveling the whole thing altogether. This involves detonating an anti-bomb, like the one used to wipe out downtown Anaheim in the series’ first book, Mercury Falls, but this time the bomb is bigger, the stakes are higher, and the number of players who have some stake in Finch’s success or failure – mostly success, since they’re mainly bad guys and want to see the Earth destroyed, but who’s counting – is greater than before. Rounding out the cast are an FBI bomb investigator who’s stumbled onto the plot behind the anti-bomb, a journalist at loose ends who’s got demons infesting her linoleum, and a demon who’s really a wannabe author hired to wrap up a distinctly Satanic take on a best-selling series with more than a whiff of Harry Potter.

It all sounds very crowded, and it is. Kroese does a nice job of tying all his various plots together. He also keeps the action moving briskly enough between settings – Babylon, Heaven, modern Anaheim, modern Africa, and a few assorted others – that any questions or dodgy bits move by in a rush. And really, this is not the sort of book one reads with an eye toward nitpicking. Either you get the joke or you don’t, and by the time you decide, you’re on to the next one.

Where readers may have some difficulty getting traction is in Kroese’s depiction of Heaven, which appears here as a sort of massive celestial version of Dunder-Mifflin. There’s paperwork, and there’s bureaucratic infighting, and there’s anxiety over promotions and makework and whatnot, and it all feels terribly mundane, as do all its inhabitants. Very few of them feel at all angelic (or, for that matter, demonic) – despite their vast powers, they’re all painfully mundane, to the point where apart from their powers, there’s nothing separating them or their motivations from the humans they’re hobnobbing with. That may be the joke, but the lack of grandeur somehow lessens the stakes they’re fighting for.

But again, the point of this book is not to interfere with the jokes, and the jokes, they do come fast and furious. If you’re on Kroese’s wavelength, you’ll enjoy the ride and get some good laughs of it. If not, there’s always Good Omens.

(AmazonEncore, 2011)

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