Underworld, by Greg Cox, Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman

underworld-by-greg-cox-danny-mcbride-kevin-grevioux-len-wiseman coverGenre: Movie Novelization
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: half star
Book Review by Fraser Ronald

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I never saw the film. Having enjoyed Blade and Blade 2, I figured I might check it out, but likely on DVD. The thought of Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight leather was rather appealing (when Kennth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing came out, I was smitten). Still, I don’t go to as movies as I once did, so I never bothered to see Underworld. When the book came up for review, I figured, what the heck, let’s see what it’s like.

Ouch.

This is not the worst book I’ve ever read, but I would say that since I started reviewing books, this is definitely in the running. I would say it’s one of the 5 worst books by a big publisher (as opposed to e-books or self-published) that I’ve read in the last 5 years. The plot is pedestrian, the writing is painful in places and the characterization is–at best–paint-by-numbers, where it does exist.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know I want at least a very fresh plot, intriguing characters or excellent writing. Any one of those makes the experience bearable, if not enjoyable. This book had none of those. It really had nothing, absolutely nothing to recommend it.

In case you don’t know, the plot is about Selene, a vampire ‘Death Dealer’ who hunts ‘lycans’ (werewolves, lycanthropes) but is very careful not to harm normal people. She encounters a human, Michael, whom the lycans are hunting, and much mayhem ensues. Yawn. There was a lot of furor when the movie came out that it’s story was based on a short story set in White Wolf’s ‘World of Darkness’ (or wherever their Vampire RPG is set, I’ve never played or even perused any of their stuff). If this is true, maybe I should have been reading that story instead.

There are no plot twists that aren’t telegraphed. There’s nothing that made me so much as raise an eyebrow. This is standard fare… in a bad way. Don’t try to surprise or challenge your reader. Though, in this case, it isn’t really the writer’s fault; it’s the screenwriter. Still, the book doesn’t have a great plot going for. If you like pedestrian, transparent plots, maybe that’s not a bad thing. If you actually like using your gray matter, there’s nothing for you here.

For me, good characters can trump everything else. If the plot is uninspired but the characters are exceptionally well-crafted, I’ll likely enjoy the book. Unfortunately, along with the off-the-shelf plot we are presented with one-size-fits-all characters. There is very little development or growth, which–honestly–wouldn’t have been difficult because these characters start as cardboard cutouts.

Now, while much of this is the blame of the screenwriter, the book’s author is equally at fault. One of the strengths of books over movies is the point-of-view character, and the chance to get into his or her head. While we do get into a lot of heads here (no, I will not harp on following the bouncing point-of-view, but come on!) the characterization is still flat. The amount of growth could be charted using molecules, it’s so insignificant. Stereotypes they begin and stereotypes they end.

Finally, there’s the actual writing itself. For this, the screenwriter need not share the blame. This has the usual lazy sentences that beg for an editor and narrative filled with unwarranted passive voice. And, like a certain other execrable book I recently reviewed, the writing is filled with archaic and colloquial lumped together with little heed for purpose, structure or style. It almost seemed like the writer would occasionally realize that these vampires are really, really old, so there better be some really, really old words thrown in there. If any discrimination was used in this process, it is not detectable based on the results.

So, is there anything going for this book? Well, the cover has a representation of Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight leather, but if that’s your thing, a poster might be a better investment. Pretty much other than that, there’s nothing about this particular book that I appreciate.

If you are a collector that is rabidly pursuing every tie-in with the movie, rush to buy this book. To everyone else, steer clear.

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