Age Of Shiva by James Lovegrove (book review).

‘Age Of Shiva’ is James Lovegrove’s seventh and, according to his website, last (for the time being at least) book in the highly successful ‘Age Of…’ series of military Science Fiction stories based around various pantheons of deities worshipped now or in the past by different cultures around the world. I’ve reviewed each of them for SFCrowsnest over the last few years and I haven’t found a dud yet. Is this a suitable high note on which to end?


This story revolves around Zak Bramwell, a successful British artist who makes his living drawing super-heroes for comics. When Zak pops out from his London flat one day to get a spot of lunch, the last thing he’s expecting is to be kidnapped by four well-built goons. While he tries to work out who he might recently have annoyed enough to warrant this treatment, the heavies drive him to a disused airfield somewhere in the Home Counties where he’s forced to board a hyper-advanced business jet which takes him at supersonic speeds to an island in the Maldives.

When he gets there, Zak finds out that his captors are a trio of billionaire business moguls with a very strange proposition for him. They want Zak to design a set of super-hero costumes. Not for a comic or a film, though. The Trinity Syndicate, as they’re known, tell him that they’ve developed a technology for turning ordinary humans into seemingly deities with genuine super-powers. They’ve already created the new ‘gods’, who represent the ten Avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology. What they need is a uniform for the Avatars to wear and Zak is offered a ton of cash to design it. Despite being understandably annoyed at being snatched off the streets of London in broad daylight, this is Zak’s ideal job. As soon as he’s seen a couple of the Avatars demonstrate that their powers are real, he signs up on the spot.

Zak does a great job on the costumes but, no sooner are the Avatars suited and booted, than news reaches them of an Asura or demon that has appeared out of the blue in downtown Manhattan, attacking and killing innocent subway passengers during the rush hour. The Avatars fly to New York immediately and, although the demon is deadly, it’s no match for ten super-heroes and they take it down in double-quick time.

All of a sudden, the previously secret existence of these super-heroes is out in public and Zak watches with pride while the world lauds the Avatars, each of whom is wearing a costume that he designed. More Asuras follow but none that the Avatars can’t cope with. Then a delegation of Indian politicians and generals visit their island and it suddenly becomes clear that the Trinity never intended the Avatars to be an Asian version of the Avengers. They’re actually designed as highly profitable mercenaries, to be hired out by the Trinity to the highest bidder. Their first client is India, who want to use them in their never-ending border war with neighbouring Pakistan. When Pakistan’s response is to threaten India with all-out nuclear war, Zak realises that his dream job may be about to turn into a disaster. Can he do anything to avert a global catastrophe?

‘Age Of Shiva’ is a rip-roaring rollercoaster of a ride. I love the fact that the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and neither does the lead character. Zak knows he’s a comic-loving geek and he’s comfortable with that. While the storyline is serious, there are brilliant one-liners on every other page, including my favourite in Chapter Eleven, where American TV news anchorman Brett Bowen is introduced as ‘a man so smug even his hairstyle seemed pleased with itself.’ How can you argue with that? Combine this with razor-sharp dialogue and more chapter-ending cliff-hangers than you can shake a stick at and you’ve got a pacy and enjoyable read that’s very difficult to put down.

If I was forced to find fault with this book, the one thing I’d question would be the original set up. When Zak arrives in the Maldives, the Trinity have already persuaded ten intelligent and thoughtful human beings to submit to some very painful medical procedures in order to turn them into real-life superheroes. They all seem to think that they’ve been created exclusively to fight evil and have made their life-changing decisions on this basis. Yet, within about five minutes of first meeting them, it became obvious to me that the Trinity were egomaniacs who were only interested in money and power. Is it realistic to suggest that not one of the would-be saviours of mankind would have seen through the Trinity and wondered what the real game-plan was?

James Lovegrove created his own sub-genre of military SF stories, frequently referred to as ‘Godpunk’, with the ‘Age Of…’ novels. I’ve enjoyed each one of them immensely. ‘Age Of Shiva’ shares all the best features of its predecessors, delivering strong characters and kick ass action sequences, all wrapped up in a white knuckle ride of a plot. If this is the final novel in the ‘Pantheon’ series, it’s a fantastic note on which to end.

Patrick Mahon

June 2015

(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins, 2014. 320 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-180-8)

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