Monday, 5 May 2014

Review: 'The Violent Century' by Lavie Tidhar

For seventy years they'd guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account... and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?

The Violent Century is unlike anything I’ve ever read. A tale of conflict, espionage and superheroes set mainly during the various conflicts of the 20th century, it is most often compared to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Suffused with the moody intrigue of a John le Carre novel and written in a postmodern style similar to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Lavie Tidhar’s standalone novel explores the hypothetical role of superheroes in historical conflicts, focusing in particular on World War II.

The majority of the plot takes place at different points in the past, and is framed by a narrative involving the interrogation of one of the central characters. Tidhar’s superheroes, or ‘Ubermenschen’, are an exaggerated and deliberately stereotyped representation of the role and ideologies of their respective countries in each of the conflicts. From Britain there’s Oblivion and Fogg, shadowy and furtive and seemingly innocuous; from the USA there’s Tigerman and Green Gunman, ludicrously costumed and arrogant; from the USSR there’s the Red Sickle, from Transylvania there’s Bloodsucker and Drakul . . . you get the picture. These characters, along with the author’s masterful use of setting and atmosphere, really create a distinctive feel of each historical era, from post-war Berlin to the Eastern Front, the Afghan desert to WWII Transylvania.

The Violent Century is definitely not for everyone. The style can be a little off-putting at first sight, and the time jumps are occasionally disorienting and disruptive; but the concept, and the atmosphere, kept me sufficiently immersed, and I even found that, once accustomed to it, the style actually makes for very fluent reading. My only criticism would be that I didn’t really feel there was enough exploration of Fogg’s motivations, and so the final payoff wasn’t quite as emotionally charged as I imagine it was intended to be. However, overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The tone is cynical yet wry, the underlying message - that the world would have turned out in exactly the same way even if superheroes did exist - is depressing yet oddly reassuring, and the finale is sad yet cathartic, and incredibly hopeful. All in all, a memorable story that will probably stay with me for quite some time. Definitely worth a read.


Click here to view The Violent Century on Amazon UK

About the author

Lavie Tidhar is the World Fantasy Award winning author of Osama, of The Bookman Histories trilogy and many other works. He also won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella, for Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God, and was nominated variously for BSFA, Campbell, Kitschies, Sturgeon and Sidewise awards. He grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and in South Africa and currently resides in London. Lavie can be found online at or on Twitter @lavietidhar.


  1. Watchmen? I do love watchmen. Tidhar has wrote a couple of short stories I enjoyed, so this book has been on my list for a bit. I almost tried the Bookman stuff,but just looked a bit to strange for me at that point in time. This has gotten better reviews all around though.

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