I was at a disadvantage reviewing this book right off the bat. This is the second book released in what is to be a three-book series detailing Johnson’s sci-fi creation, the Webworld. Not having read the first one, I didn’t know what the hell was going on at all. Part of this is the simple fact that I was jumping into a fairly convoluted story in the middle, but a larger part of the problem was Johnson biting off entirely more than they can realistically chew at this point in their writing career. There are a couple dozen characters in this series, and only a few are drawn with any kind of shading or depth, and most are reduced to the one fantastical ability or mutation they bring to the table. Most troublingly, the female characters are described with all-too-familiar sexist tropes as they are ogled by the men (hint—all have great asses). The overarching story involves time traveling, dimension hopping, shamanism, Celtic magic, evil corporations changing people’s DNA, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the themes Johnson is attempting to wrangle in this world made of seemingly every idea he’s ever had.
There are a couple really interesting characters and ideas in here, but sadly there’s so much other white noise in the narrative that they’re often completely lost. Oliver, one of the evil characters who has been “changed” into a boy/spider creation is genuinely frightening. The descriptions of his movements and his cold, arachnid-like pursuit was excellently done. But, almost every time he shows up in the novel, he’s surrounded by three or four other characters that feel entirely superfluous to the danger. I would be interested to see Johnson start smaller after this project. He already has the universe he obviously wants, so go micro instead of macro and focus on a character or two at a time. Books like this should be engrossing, but this was just exhausting. –Justin Bookworm (Grand Mal Press, grandmalpress.com)