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Review: New Model Army by Adam Roberts

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Roberts' novel of philosophical, sociological, political and military observations is interesting and well-written, if rather overtaken by the concepts the author is fascinated by and wants to taken on.  Indeed, New Model Army is perhaps more an exploration of those than a novel itself; the features of a novel are there, but to some extent they are simply a way for Roberts to teach his audience about the real subjects of the novel.

Roberts' characters are, without doubt, well drawn and interesting; the mysterious Colonel, the fighters of Pantegral, and Tony are all well-drawn and well-rounded figures, about whom we discover more - indeed, much more; Roberts is a great proponent, here, of the slow, eventual revelation - as the story progresses.  So much is kept in reserve however that at times things are confusing and appear to contradict themselves, later revelations appearing to contradict earlier ones until an anvilicious and/or author filibuster moment comes along to both dispel the confusion and elucidate some complex point of philosophy.  The characters, whilst being indeed characters and people in their own right, have a tendency - especially our viewpoint-character Tony - to simply become mouthpieces for philosophical arguments.

The plot, on the other hand, is much stronger; it's not actually that action-packed, or at least not directly (though far more so by implication) and it is really well written; indeed Roberts handles his plot with great aplomb almost to the end, though at the last hurdle he stumbles quite significantly and the last 30-odd pages ramble and roll somewhat appalingly, jarringly even.  However, the plot does keep the novel moving and interesting, with a juxtaposition of combat and non-combat scenes adding a wonderful element whereby we see an army fighting and at rest.

The setting is another problematic element; it's near-future, but it's never really clear what's happened or happening.  Indeed, it's a combination of near-future and present-day to the extent that 2030 really isn't different enough, and politics haven't changed enough, from 2010; Roberts doesn't even seem to take into account developments after 1995, let alone 2008.  It's a real problem for the novel that the near-future world described just doesn't seem real, because it's too close to now and also too far from today to work.

All in all, then, whilst the explorations of concepts are interesting, they would have been better served by a nonfiction piece, and whilst New Model Army has a very interesting style and manner, it's not a terribly good novel.

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