Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius by Kevin J. Anderson is a fictional biography of Andre Nemo, who, according to the tale, is the real figure behind the stories of Jules Verne.
The novel is broken into half a dozen ‘books,’ with each telling a part of the story, years apart, switching point of view between Andre Nemo and Jules Verne, beginning when the two are children together in Nantes.
The story kicks off when Andre loses his ship-builder father in an accident on-board a new vessel. This event tears the two great friends apart, prompting Nemo to leave for a new life of deck-swabbing, with Verne staying behind.
Soon after, Nemo’s ship goes down, and he is lost at sea, with his friends back home knowing nothing of his fate.
Here the story is a little slow. Much space is taken with developing the two as boys, only to have those characters ultimately lost from the reader when they suddenly - between chapters - become men.
Similarly, the ending of the book is a bit slow, with the majority of the good meat of the story coming in the middle. This middle is also a bit plodding, but for good reason, as there is a lot to explain.
The best parts of the book are the action scenes, and there are enough to entertain. Essentially, Anderson has taken some of the iconic Verne adventures and turned them to remained, slightly more realistic scenes, which is quite skillful.
I particularly enjoyed the several chapters in which the castaway Nemo has to hastily erect defenses on his island when he sees that his rescue ship is, in fact, a band of blood thirst pirates. His wit and tactics save the day for him, and it’s fun to watch, despite the predictable outcome.
And that’s where the book falls down a bit for me. Anderson has a great concept here, and he does execute it well with skilled prose. Unfortunately, it gets to a point where I’m saying to myself "Okay, I see what you’re doing here," and I want the story to move on.
It starts, at points, to feel like some really well-written fan-fiction. By which I mean: Dark Genius is fun to get into because I’m so invested in the personalities already, but it’s difficult to be truly engaged in the plot, knowing so easily where it will be leading me.
It also becomes difficult at points to really root for the protagonists, especially Verne, as the fictional life of Nemo makes Verne out to be much less than he was in real life. In the world presented to us, Verne is no longer the clever genius fiction author that we know, and is instead a talented writer who is unable to succeed until his boyhood friend delivers to him the ideas he needs for his great masterpieces, robbing him of his true talent.
I’m reluctant, however, to say that the book would have worked better if Anderson has simply taken the tale and written it about different characters, since the adventures within resemble Vernes stories so much, it would be impossible to divorce them in the minds of the knowledgeable reader, and the novel would have felt much more derivative.
Overall, it’s a fun book with some interesting scenes, but fans of Verne may find themselves shaking their heads a few times if they are unable to afford the book a double level of disbelief suspension.
Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius by Kevin J. Anderson is available now from Titan Books.