I've just been reading a number of (differing...) definitions of Magic Realism and Urban Fantasy, and still cannot decide which of those Charlie Human's books fall into. Heck, it could even be YA... So, sidestepping the genre question, Kill Baxter is the follow-up to Charlie's debut novel, Apocalypse Now Now. And it's rather fabulous, I think.
Charlie Human is a South African writer, published by Century and Random House, with two novels and a few published pieces of short fiction so far. Kill Baxter is set in the same universe as Apocalypse Now Now, and picks up more or less directly where the previous book ended.
Baxter Zevenko has just saved the world, and, to get out of the trouble this got him into, had to agree to leave his Cape Town school where he was the Porn kingpin, and join Hexpoort school.
Hexpoort is run by a secret government agency, and is teaching talented youngster on how to develop their magic abilities (Baxter is mainly a Dreamwalker, which is an unusual and near-extinct skill) and survive in this world where all kinds of creatures, referred to as The Hidden, er, hide amongst humanity. Not all of them have a very positive attitude to humans, and that's before you get into global and inter-species politics.
Baxter is not happy in Hexpoort – he sucks at magic as something is blocking his abilities, making him absolutely bloody useless at it. He gets bullied by another pupil who apparently is prophesised to be The Chosen One (whatever or whoever that is), who is unhappy with Baxters fame for his deeds. His girlfriend, who he saved in the previous book has dumped him, and his best friend is not speaking to him anymore. Sucks to be him... and now his school is under attack by an unknown enemy referred to as the Muti Man (he collects the teeth of MK6 agents he kills for magic purposes), and instead of getting an education Baxter gets appreticed to Jackson 'Jackie' Ronin, an ex-soldier with both an psychological and a related alcohol problem. But that's the least of their problems...
The story is told in first person, through the eyes of Baxter, so we get what he observes and what happens to him, and his internal monologue, never mind his Dreamwalking experiences. Decidedly far out, his mind...
There are some cameos from characters in the first book, but I don't think any of the connections would really require one to read the first book, er, first before delving into this. Not that there would be any good reason to skip the first one – and, even if this is a contained story arc, it might help with the understanding of the overall world and setting, and the (I suspect) larger story being told.
The book is told in chapters which use IT references to non-IT events in the story plus some really bad puns as titles. Hmmm, I cannot really fault him for this.
It also contains the by a long way funniest take on a fashion show, and fashion in general, that I've read, ever. It's a Stross-level pisstake, worth the book alone in my opinion.
I found the plot to be rather predictable, and would also have been interested in learning more about the unique mix of magic in South Africa, or anything about the history and overall setting of this world, with it's multiple races, it's long history of not always peaceful co-existence, and the resulting politics; we really only know what Baxter gathers, and it's not much.
Some of the humoristic bits really are rather funny (not just the fashion stuff), whilst other are hit&miss, forced, and don't help the story flow. More editing, to get rid of this Tom Holt approach might have helped. Further development as a writer might also help him focus this a bit more.
Otherwise I felt that the story, the writing, flows much better in this book than it did in the first one, there is definitive development in evidence concerning the craft of writing, of telling stories and holding the audience. It also looks very much to me like he is setting up for a longer series – the next (or is the final?) boss-fight is already being hinted at.
Well, if he continues to be this much fun (and getting even better) then I'm happy to be along for the ride!
More Charlie Human
Title: Kill Baxter
Author: Charlie Human
Series: Apocalypse Now Now
Series Number: 2
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Random House
Publisher URL: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk
Publication Date: 2014
Review Date: 150523
Price: UKP 13.99
Format: Trade Paperback
Topic: Magic Realism
Topic: Urban Fantasy