Heart Of Veridon (The Burn Cycle book 1) by Tim Ackers (book review).

In ‘Heart Of Veridon’ by Tim Akers, Jacob Burn, a disgraced pilot and nobleman ekes out a living working for the shady city of Veridon underworld. Grim but almost content, his life as he knows it comes to an abrupt end when he becomes the only survivor of a sabotaged airship and the owner of a mysterious artefact known as the ‘cog’. Soon enough Jacob is being pursued by a homicidal ‘angel’ and corrupt city authorities, while all the while seeking to uncover the hidden truth behind the city’s religious technology and how the ‘cog’ could change it forever.

This novel is a first-person non-stop action thriller which between chases and gun battles deals with an evolving back story to the city itself, its gods and technology and the traitorous and sadistic natures of Jacob’s friends and foes alike. To say the narrative is action-packed would be doing it a disservice. Barely a moment goes by without the character either being engaged in combat or receiving another titbit of information before being betrayed by another homicidal maniac. There is a complicated techno-conspiracy behind why everyone wants to get their hands on Jacob and the cog. All he can do is keep ahead of it and keep reacting as he tries to solve the mystery.

There is a lot to absorb here, a society that exists as an uneasily alliance of privilege, power and criminality and a technology that changes human beings from the inside out, combining them with strange and intricate machinery. Jacob himself is a pilot but, in a back story that is gradually revealed, the pilot machinery inside him malfunctioned, causing a terrible crash that changed him forever and caused a rift with his family.

At first, I found it hard to take it all in, the hard-boiled first person point of view causing a narrow focus so that when anything is explained it only leads to more questions and a head shrug. What stopped me from falling completely down the rabbit hole were some handy exposition passages where Jacob discusses what is going on with his allies. At that point, the story comes into sharp focus and accumulation of detail reaches critical mass. It’s definitely worth staying with it, because at that point the story gets more interesting and I started to invest in Jacob as a real person who is dealing with a number of issues and feelings that have haunted him for years.

So it’s not completely a shoot-‘em-up, but the action scenes are well-written and kinetic if a little cartoonish as more people shoot at Jacob and he mows down another row of faceless enemy minions. I wouldn’t say Jacob’s actions drive the story, though, rather things happen to him which he doesn’t plan as he escapes another attack, follows another lead. There is the feeling that the city is bearing down on him, pressuring him, pushing him and he is doing everything he can to wriggle free.

Other characters are not so well-developed, which is not surprising as Jacob is telling the story. We can’t get into anyone else’s head to see what they’re thinking. Emily, Jacob’s love interest, has some development but, after showing some teeth in the action department, she becomes a damsel in distress to be rescued. Wilson, Jacob’s most deadly ally, is more of a paternal figure to Jacob, supporting and tending to his wounds, as well as wielding deadly knives. Wilson is also a spider person, equipped with extra legs for scurrying and climbing, which makes him more agile and adaptable than any of the other characters for the numerous combat situations. Next up is Sloane, a sadistic enforcer who seems to enjoy his job as much as he is good at it. He is Jacob’s main nemesis, laying traps and generally being evil. We don’t know anything about his past but, if he could twirl a moustache, I think he would.

Looking back on ‘Heart Of Veridon’, it’s a fun book that demands a certain amount of thought to join all the dots and make sense of it. There are definitely a few things left up in the air, like where the cog and angel come from and what other dangers are ready to threaten Veridon from the outside. There is also an interesting take on how the criminal and legal world link up into one overarching system so that the join is difficult to distinguish. By the end, Jacob has had a lot of his preconceptions revealed to be false and needs to find a new truth to live by which I assume is a job for the sequel.

In summary, I would say that if you like action then this is the book for you but, as a subtext, there is an interesting and detailed society that also bares examination. Where it’s deficient is any deep character development other than Jacob which is a consequence of the first person format. This is also very much a plot-driven book, but that plot is so fiendishly complex that it stretches the mind. In the end it’s a book you have to work at to gain any insight but personally I think that work brings its own reward.

GD Tinnams

June 2020

(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 473 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84416-758-6)

check out website: www.solarisbooks.com

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