7 String Volume 1
By Nich Angell
If you’re after hi-concept sci-fi and fantasy, Scott Pilgrim with a little more Blade Runner and less downtown Toronto, Game Of Thrones with guitar swords, (or as the back cover points out) Star Wars crossed with Guitar Hero, Nich Angell’s 7 String pretty much ticks all the boxes. It’s not perfect, but it is great fun.
And the style of it is immediately fresh, a younger man would say funky and cool (and that younger man is Martin Eden again from the back cover), but I instantly see so much in Angell’s work; computer animation, video games, graffiti culture, and a joy of music in all forms. It looks great. It looks young.
It’s the story of Zachary Briarpatch, the obvious Luke Skywalker of 7String, the youngster thrust into a conflict he has little understanding of through heartbreak and tragedy. He’s the musical prodigy central to the tale, a gifted musician in a world of music…
But just like Star Wars, 7String is all about the impressive visuals and the killer concept. It’s obvious, even without Angell’s extensive back-matter included in this volume, that this is all carefully thought out, the research has been done, the world fleshed out far more than it needed just to tell the story. You can immediately tell that Angell knows his story inside and out. And there’s both the strongest aspect of 7String and it’s biggest flaw; this world forming is so essential that there are points where it actually overwhelms the narrative and the plot. Thankfully 7String’s energy and that well executed concept is enough to carry it along through the problems. Style and concept is all here, narrative perfection may have to wait till volume 2.
The world of 7String is a world of music, where the very cosmic DNA is melody, where the Infinity Cascade sings across time and space, the most beautiful thing in the universe, the god tune if you will. Melody as life-force, the Newtonian physics of this world, where every living creature is in symbiosis with the melody.
The people of 7String take this cosmic DNA and adapt it, creating and controlling through technology, weaponary, instruments, tribal associations and cultures forming along distinct musical lines, social personalities defined by musical identity; the powerful Brace Clef, keyboard tech based, the dominant tech force in 7String; the secretive, dischordant, unpredictable string based Altern Clef; the theologians and magicians of Tremor Clef, wind and brass, healing and relaxing; and finally the empire-building threat of the Trouble Clef, a percussive force, raw melodic energy, causing trouble, orchestrating a war that’s loomed long in 7String scripture. The socio-political basis of 7String is fascinating,watching Angell work so hard to create a believable society all governed and reliant upon music.
Young Zachary’s importance in this world is obvious to all who come into contact with him, he’s the soloist chosen by that cosmic DNA. But that importance brings great danger and great tragedy, as the mysterious assassin in black and red comes calling, intent on preventing Zach from taking the role he seems destined for. This is the same power-hungry man who destroyed the Infinity Cascade and has plunged the world of 7String into doubt and despair. The big bad. Boo, Hiss, etc.
The book switches from Zach to various other members of the Clef world, representatives of each Clef, slowly being gathered and manipulated to standing in opposition to the Trouble Clef bad guy, and with Zach the unpredicatable Clef-less messiah. Everything plot-wise is set for some climactic battle in Volume 2.
So much in 7String is done so right – Angell’s knowledge of the musical physics underpinning 7String really shows when he takes his characters into battle; choreographed to perfection, powerful music flowing freely, the idea making complete sense to the reader, a musical computer game duel done so well. Likewise, when the universe is explained the technical language and musical ideas integrate easily into the reader’s experience of the story; cadence, melody, harmony, power chords, dischordant sounds, they’re all adapted into Angell’s way of thinking, and it all makes perfect sense.
But there’s something missing at the end, a feeling that Angell’s really onto something great, but hasn’t quite managed to bridge the gap between the important thematic world building and the equally important four to the floor action on the ground. The background, the ideology, the theology, the socio-political stuff is excellent, the fights are beautifully done, but the transitions between the two, the plot and the characterisation just let it down a little. I’m looking forward to volume two to see if Angell can bridge that important gap, and create something really great.