Release Date: Sept. 1, 2011
Publisher: Griffith Publishing
The Tournament #1
Format(s): Paperback (514 pgs.), e-book
Book Source: Publisher/Author
“There was a time…long ago, when whole nations, entire races of people, pinned their hopes and futures on individual warriors. Whole wars were won and lost on the outcome of a single battle between heroes. Entire countries were moved. Empires rose and fell…”
In Blue Fall, that time has come again.
A routine investigation throws a hapless insurance agent down the rabbit hole, into a world where the rich and powerful place wagers on the greatest game on earth. They call it the Tournament. It offers competition without limits. It is beholden to no man, and constrained by no law, and it is extremely dangerous. But where does the true power lie in this World Cup of warfare? With those who place the bets, or with the deadly players themselves? And can one man expose the secret before they find him?
What Nima’s talking about:
The over-arching premise of Blue Fall is an elementary one: competition. There is inherent struggle and suspense in the pitting of one side against another. This simple concept, however, is not an uncomplicated one in the pages of Blue Fall. B.B. Griffith’s debut novel seeks to accomplish two goals. The first is to provide an escape for those of us who love to flee reality into the pages of a good book. The dedication reads, “If you’ve been known to open up a book simply to escape, then Blue Fall is dedicated to you.” This explains its unapologetic length coming in at over 500 pages. In my opinion, better editing would have tightened the multitude of pieces and characters of this story into a more fluid read. It doesn’t follow, however, that it wasn’t a good read.
The second goal is where things get interesting. Following the dedication, there is a quote from Joseph Heller’s famous character Milo Minderbender in Catch-22, “Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.” Griffith takes this nugget of an idea and runs with it. What would war look like between nations if it were pared down to teams of only three individuals each? What kind of back-up structure and resources would they need? How would you keep it secret from the public at large so they could go on living their lives undisturbed? What if you allowed private wagers? Let outcomes dictate foreign policy? So many tantalizing “what if’s” that kept me reading even when the prose turned muddy.
The first character we are introduced to is Frank Youngsmith, an insurance adjuster. After the initial investigation of an unusually large life policy payout which brings him in contact with people and information he just doesn’t want to know, Frank disappears from the storyline only to reappear almost at the very end. This surprised me since in reading the book’s description I expected to follow him as the main character throughout the book. I consider it a potential flaw that Griffith seems to introduce us to many characters, like Sarah Walcott, the daughter of a tournament doctor, who don’t prove to be significant or even necessarily contributory to the action of the book. As Blue Fall is billed as “volume one” of the Tournament, I can only suppose that these insignificant characters will become significant in future volumes.
The first two-hundred pages are a character study, including some of the minor characters. If you like back story, you’ll love the time spent on this feature of the book. I found myself heading into the main action unsure of who I was supposed to be rooting for because even after learning their history, I didn’t especially like any of the tournament players. I learned more about them by the way they behaved in the heat of battle than I did in any of the preliminary slices of life.
The flaw that ate at me the most was the lack of explanation about the Tournament’s origin and history. Titles are assigned to team members, Striker, Sweeper, and Captain, but their roles weren’t well defined outside of a single conversation among the members of Mexico’s team, “‘Of course you would say that,’ Lilia said. ‘That is what you do. You sweep. But me? I strike. I create the mess that you clean up.’” Even once they were in play and the scientifically engineered diodes that incapacitate players in a simulated death started to fly, it didn’t seem to me that there was a strong assertion of those designations. We arrive into the Tournament in its fifth year. It appears to be a pivotal year because the Tournament is changing. Outcomes are more significant to those backing each team and the “battles” are becoming more public. This kind of warfare can’t be kept a secret much longer despite staggering sums of money and infiltration into public services. The captain of Ireland’s team makes this observation, “It was folly to think that anything resembling that first meeting would be feasible anymore. The Tournament was morphing: changing itself and also changing everyone involved… The power each team had been given made their true colors rise to the top, and what had emerged wasn’t always pretty…” It would be nice to have a better idea of the original intention and structure of the Tournament before seeing how it changes in this and future volumes.
The reader is left with many loose ends that we can only hope will be addressed in the next book. Have the non-lethal diodes/bullets changed or does multiple exposures have unanticipated long-term effects? Why are these particular individuals chosen to represent their countries? Even after learning their back-stories, we still don’t know what makes them so special. And just what of all those minor characters??
Despite its flaws, Blue Fall has great action scenes. With the inevitable morphing of the Tournament, all those what-if’s should provide tremendous fodder for the volumes to come. There is potential here which I hope very much is realized in the next installment of The Tournament.
Liked it – recommend (B+)