The freedom fighters of Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising

Posted by CB Droege

This seems like a good time to take a closer look at Shrapnel, particularly since a film adaption of the novel is currently in development.

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising takes the reader to the surface of Venus where a human colony is working hard to make their lives in a harsh environment.

When a political envoy visits the planet from a Solar government, demanding that Venus join the union, resistance kicks into gear, and the fighting is met.

Our protagonist is a manual laborer with a past to run from. She is a badass fighter and commander who once served under the very military unit which is now attacking her new home. In her attempts to run away, and leave her friends behind, she gets drawn into the fighting, and must become the hero of the Venusian resistance force.

The world-building here is great. The history and technology of the story-world is engaging and compelling.

As I read, what I mostly wanted was to learn more about the politics and governments involved in the conflict. It’s not a dystopian future, but it is a very grey one, with some very real and potentially tensing situations, unfortunately, the specific characters shown here are less than compelling.

The protagonist is the badass chick trope to a T, and it’s a bit stale. It feels like the only thing that makes her such a great commander and fighter is that she’s the only female in the entire cast of characters. She’s anachronistically a woman in a world full of men, and she can’t even be that until she runs from the room crying, then returns with a badass buzzcut, which allows her to act like a real human being. Also, it feels like there is nothing special about what she can do. It’s not that she’s a great leader or adepts fighter, it’s that everyone else in the story is a complete incompetent.

It’s not just the protagonist. Most of the characters are unbelievable, and none of the relationships feel genuine. Characters change allegiances throughout the story with unrealistic rapidity, and others are far too willing to accept these changes without suspicion.

A lot of this, however, boils down to a simple problem: The book is not long enough to tell its story. There are 20 issues worth of story being told here, but it’s crammed into the 5 short issues which makeup this novel.

Then, the problem is further complicated by the art style, which is beautiful, but confusing. I can see what they were going for here: they wanted the novel to have a certain feel. The protagonist is acting on instinct, guided by her gut from moment to moment, and the art, for that reason is muddy, and lacking in much detail, it brings a certain level of emotional intelligence to the work, which is not there when a story is told in traditional comics style. There is a good reason for that standard style however, it serves well to help the reader understand the action of the story.

The action scenes are almost undecipherable. The characters almost all look the same, and the illustrations are so dark and uncertain that, even after looking over a given scene three or four times, I still have no idea what was going on. This too might be an intentional part of the style, muddying up the horrors and confusions of war, but really it just makes the story difficult to understand, and since the action is so integral to this story it makes the whole thing tough to follow.

Unless you’re willing to put a lot of effort into suspending your disbelief and following the action of the story, I’d skip this one. Perhaps Hollywood will be a better place for the tale. It seems almost like it was written for the silver screen in the first place, so it shouldn’t be tough with a big enough budget to make it look right.