Kill Baxter by Charlie Human
Please note Kill Baxter is a direct sequel to last years Apocalypse Now Now. It is entirely possible if you haven’t read that then this review may contain some mild spoilers. As ever, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
AND HE THOUGHT THE HARD PART WAS OVER.
The world has been massively unappreciative of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko. His bloodline may be a combination of ancient Boer mystic and giant shape-shifting crow, and he may have won an inter-dimensional battle and saved the world, but does anyone care? No. Instead he’s packed off to Hexpoort, a magical training school that’s part reformatory, part military school, and just like Hogwarts (except with sex, drugs, and better internet access). The problem is that Baxter sucks at magic. He’s also desperately attempting to control his new ability to dreamwalk, all the while being singled out by the school’s resident bully, who just so happens to be the Chosen One.
But when the school comes under attack, Baxter needs to forget all that and step into action. The only way is joining forces with his favourite recovering alcoholic of a supernatural bounty hunter, Ronin, to try and save the world from the apocalypse. Again.
Last year when I first heard about Apocalypse Now Now I had absolutely zero expectations. I knew nothing of this Charlie Human, fella and didn’t know if his debut would appeal or not. I needn’t have worried as I devoured the book swiftly, and Mr Human’s literary gymnastics successfully managed to melt my brain. The good news is that I’ve recently been released from the brain hospital, time cures all wounds – even brain melting. I couldn’t have timed it better if I’d tried. Back out into my world just in time for the sequel Kill Baxter to be released.
The real highlight of this story, as before, is the character of Baxter himself. He remains firmly at the dark shiny heart of the novel. You just can’t beat a character who exhibits genuinely unpredictable behaviour. He reads like a twisted melange of my favourite literary nutters. Equal parts Machiavellian power broker, sociopathic psycho and the anti-Potter. He’s trying to be a better person, but it doesn’t exactly come easy.
The magical universe that Baxter caught glimpses of in book one is now revealing more and more of its secrets. Having saved the world from almost certain doom once already he finds himself thrown in at the deep end at Hexpoort, a magic users training academy many miles from all his family and friends. The school and its denizens are like a magical who’s who of Africa mythology. The teachers are a surly masochistic bunch and the other students are all as twisted as Baxter. He quickly discovers he is no longer the big fish in a small pond.
Elsewhere, there are a handful chapters where Baxter enters his own subconscious dreamscape. The key to unlocking his magical potential lies somewhere deep inside. Just when you think things can’t get any weirder, Human throws a literary curveball at the reader, and all that has gone before seems suddenly commonplace. Bizarre, but at the same time entirely apt, these scenes are some of the best in the novel. There certainly won’t ever be any accusation that readers don’t understand the inner workings of Baxter’s psyche. Every element of his multi-faceted character is laid bare. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing how off the wall the inside of his head is. Think Inception on an acid trip and you are about half way there.
Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin also returns and is still very much a favourite. Shambolic, violent and with more inner demons than you could shake a big stick at he is a delightfully dark creation. Described at one point as being something akin to an alcoholic homeless Viking Ronin remains a law unto himself. Though Baxter and Ronin share a deep bond with one another they have a snarky back and forth banter that loads of fun. Sometimes they bicker like an old married couple.
I don’t think I can even begin to explain the labyrinthine plot, so I’m not even going to try. Suffice to say, if you have read Apocalypse Now Now, you will be somewhat prepared. Charlie Human writes like some sort of demented wordmage/soothsayer, and things often veer off on the most wickedly surreal tangents. There are a plethora of new weird and wonderful characters. Just wait till you meet Psychosexual Development, a 70s funk band who have a very important link with our main protagonist.
It’s not often I mention book covers, but it would be remiss of me if I didn’t make some mention of the wonderful cover art by @JoeyHiFi. Once again his vivid style perfectly complements the text and does a fantastic job of suggesting the delights that lie within.
All in all, Kill Baxter, like its predecessor, is just plain nuts. Works for me, I loved every single page. I’m willing to concede that some will find this novel perhaps just a bit too odd, too strange. Don’t let yourself fall into this category. Give yourself over to the surrealist journey of Baxter’s self-discovery, and let the delicious nonsense just wash over you. Once you accept this into your brain, I can guarantee you it’ll be worth it, its great fun. If you enjoy your urban fantasy with a razor sharp edge and a darkly comic heart, then this is undoubtedly the book for you. Mad, bad and more than a little dangerous to know, everyone needs a bit of Baxter Zevcenko in their lives.
Kill Baxter is published by Century and is available from 17th July. Highly recommended. I can only hope there will be another novel featuring these characters again very soon, I’d read it in a heartbeat.