Aug 14, 2016: With a title like that, I guess you know where this review is going, so let’s get started. The trend these days in fantasy/superhero fiction is towards the hyperrealistic. This usually manifests itself in the gritty, dark story that we all know and love (think The Dark Knight or Worm). TGaB maintains the hyperrealism. Every character is a well thought out human being with strengths and flaws and a backstory for those strengths and flaws. No organization is purely good or purely evil either; in fact, just as in real life, there aren’t even “sides” that you can label as “good” or “evil.” The story’s true originality, though, is in the fact that it is able to accomplish all this while maintaining a tone that is much more lighthearted than either Worm or The Dark Knight could ever hope to be.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved reading Worm. But reading Worm was a frenetic experience that left me exhausted at the end of each arc. TGaB has a totally different feel – one that makes for fun, easy reading.
TGaB explores originality in other ways too. When I started reading the story, I worried that the main characters were overpowered. The group we’re introduced to in the first few chapters include three or four characters who are basically un-killable by any normal opponent, several magical powerhouses, direct representatives of the gods, etc. Usually this scenario ends up one of two ways. Either the characters just smash their way through the opposition, leading to a pretty boring story, or they somehow always get matched up against equally powerful opponents, which sort of kills the realism.
As I got farther into the story, however, I realized that the main characters’ strength was deliberate. TGaB is a story about a world transitioning from the Age of Adventurers, when individual power was prized – to the Industrial Age, where political power and cooperative power play a much larger role. That means that the majority of the suspense in the story involves the political struggle for the goal – rather than the martial one (by the way I’m using “political” only in the broadest sense to mean everything from speech-giving to connection-making to general skullduggery – this is not a House of Cards style story). The main characters’ strength is an asset, but rarely are they able to smash their way through problems. Instead, they usually have to outthink the situation, which is much more up in the air.
What’s especially great about this is that it gets around a flaw that almost all action-based stories have, even those without over powered main characters. There is usually an understanding that however much the odds may be stacked against the main characters, they can’t actually die in the fight unless it’s the climax of the story. So combat-based suspense is often slightly lacking because you know, for the most part, that the main characters are going to be all right in the end. By moving the majority of the suspense to non-combat related activities, TGaB succeeds in always keeping the reader on their toes; you know the main characters won’t die, but you don’t know if they will accomplish their goals.
Finally, TGaB is able to deal with complex issues like racism and sexism very successfully. I’ll give one example (some spoilers, although I’ve made it vague and limited them as much as possible). A little bit into story we find out that one character has sexually assaulted another and is in a continued abusive relationship with them. Most web fiction that contains assault or rape shows only a childish understanding of the issue of sexual assault in the modern world. In most stories, revealing that a character is a rapist results in all the other characters immediately agreeing to kill/imprison them, and then having that happen a chapter or two later. Certainly, no “good” character, upon discovering the abuse, allows it to continue, right?
Except that’s not how the world works. We know that, unfortunately. We know that because of people like Bill Cosby. TGaB is lighthearted, yes, except when it doesn’t want to be. It can show you how ostensibly good people can, in the name of power or politics, allow a stain of a human being to continue existing and preying on people. It can even use its lighthearted tone to lull you into a false sense of security, making you forget how awful this character is, until in one of the single most gut-wrenching paragraphs I have ever read, it brings that horror crashing down upon you.
That’s why it’s the best story on the Internet.