Reading the two-page afterword that followed this book, I learned that Robert McCammon considers this his "Angry Young Man novel", and that this was his first full-length publication. The story was born from feeling surrounded by powerless circumstances - in the twenties with little money, a dead-end job catering to under-appreciative employers, little respect from peers. Baal rose up to form a story that has been told and retold in so many ways before. It's not new, but as far as these types of tellings go, it's damn good.
The thing I appreciate most is that McCammon stuck to the viewpoints of a select few, staying with them a good length in between, not head-hopping too much, something that drives me bonkers with these types. It was subtly apocalyptic until the end, where it still felt sheltered and isolated, but that was the trick of the hand and the weight over the eyes.
Focal settings help the story succeed well - told through the POV of the unlucky parents for the first segment; Baal's interesting choice of carriers to fame through the boy's home as a teenager; Virga, the quiet and subtle hero at the college; the destruction and desolation as Baal gains power in the middle east; and ultimately the long, perilous journey that three heroes bear on the ice. Each of these segments drew out to highlight the power of the story, not needing to jump around, and in staying amidst themselves and having respect/importance for each scene, making each segment count as much as the first and the last - well, that is where this story truly succeeded.
Virga was such an awesome hero because, like in so many biblical stories and lessons, he was an ordinary man. Aged, not strong in stature, not particularly brave, he helped as best as he could but was not saved in any way through good fortune, talent, luck, or skill. He couldn't fight, he couldn't shoot weapons, he couldn't track, and he was the slowest of the group in the ice, slowing them down. An unassuming hero with his own brands of flaws. Baal was truly evil, yicky with his intents and his purposes, a one-dimensional foe. While I usually prefer my heroes AND villains with grey spots, Baal could be nothing but pure black to be convincing considering what he is supposed to be.
McCammon writes well with his pacing and scenes. At over 350 pages, this novel doesn't need trimming or editing. He especially excelled with convincing dialogue, especially when Baal either speaks or bellows. There is a small twist at the end (but it's not surprising) and the battle is almost anticlimactic - perhaps a little weak - but ultimately it works with the subtle, apocalyptic story.
No real flaws, but a three-star rating is earned because the story only entertains semi-far due to it's content. Plotting structure is fine and well constructed, but the story's material is simple.
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