Book Review: X-Men – Chaos Engine Trilogy: Red Skull

Well, it took me a little longer to finish this book than expected. I had read a couple of books in between as I always try to read a fiction and nonfiction book at the same time. As of last night, the task was completed.

It normally doesn’t take me long to write a review because I keep notes throughout reading the book. This was no different.

This is the third book in the Chaos Engine Trilogy. The first featured Dr. Doom which kicked off the whole alternate reality mess. The second featured Magneto and is one I wrote a review on. We now come to the third and last book in the series. It was also the longest. I also thought it was the best out of them all. At the end of this review, I will give my grade of the book from A to F, as always. And again, I read this not so much as a reader but as a hybrid reader and writer which is always reflected in my reviews.

The basic premise builds on the two previous books as the faulty Cosmic Cube exchanges hands from Dr. Doom, to Magneto, and finally, to the Red Skull. Each one of them use the cube to reshape the world into their image since the Cosmic Cube is an item that can alter and change reality…the real one that is. This one, created by Dr. Doom, is defective and the X-Men must fight each of the villains to get the cube before it spreads its reality cancer and destroys the multiverse.

When the Cosmic Cube finds it’s way into the hands of the Red Skull, it finds itself in the hands of someone who has a relationship with its powers. The Red Skull had acquired a Cosmic Cube multiple times in the past, so out of the three, he has more skill in using it. Since the Red Skull is a Nazi from the Third Reich, the world is created in the image of Adolf Hitler and if the Germans had ruled the world. He even expands his empire to the stars out through the galaxy.

The beginning of the book starts off well in terms of the overall story. As I’ve been reading through the entire trilogy, I’ve tolerated the overuse of adverbs and the passive voice. For me, that will always cost a book points in terms of my grade for it. Just depends how egregious it is.

Red Skull with the Cosmic Cube.

As the story progressed, I found that it got better. There were some teeth underneath it. Ramon wrote this one darker because of the individual who has the Cosmic Cube — The Red Skull. Early in the book and chapter 2, we get this from the mind of The Red Skull:

“Dreams were for those who lacked direction, black steely determination. A man might desire a better life, but how hard will he work to achieve it? He might wish for an end to misery, but what would he be willing to sacrifice in exchange for it? He might long for a better world, but what steps would he take to create it? Those were the questions that made all the difference — the ones that separated the dreamer from the visionary.”

Red Skull

Love that paragraph.

Speaking of those adverbs, you have a situation on page 136 that shows that adverbs are just not necessary 95% of the time. It’s the first sentence of the third paragraph which says,

“Jean angrily snatched the purse from a table in the foyer and stomped her way to the door, throwing on a short black jacket as she went.”

If you take the word ‘angrily’ out of that sentence, it is a classic show not tell situation. The addition of that adverb makes it the opposite — a tell not show situation.

If there’s anything I can suggest to budding writers (I’ve had to learn this myself) — and it’s really not a suggestion but a hard-and-fast rule — it is to kill all of the adverbs in your narrative descriptions as much as you possibly can. Go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and rewrite those sentences, using more descriptive verbs and adjectives. This will make that sentence pop with action instead of the lazy writer’s way of adding adverbs to everything. It is annoying.

There is a stylistic method on page 332 that is indicative of weak writing. It’s something he does more than once throughout the book. It’s forecasting by telling and not showing.

For example, there’s a part in the second section where a missile comes in and destroys everything. The narrative description should have ended at the second paragraph where it says,

“Hundreds of residents and visitors were sucked into the vortex, never to be seen again.”

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. It’s what Ramon adds afterward:

“And matters were only going to become worse.”

Extraneous and also another example of telling, not showing. The sentence should have been deleted (where was the editor on this thing?). It forecasts what was going to happen instead of leaving it alone so the reader can be thrown into a mood of suspense and tension at what just happened which encourages them to read more. When it’s forecasted with extraneous descriptions, it weakens the story. It sucks the suspense out of it or at least the tension of it. Writers do that and we really need to learn how to keep the suspense and tension up by not being so wordy. Of course, I’ve learned this by doing the same thing.

However, I will say this — he knows how to write Wolverine well. The dialogue he wrote for him every time was classic Wolverine. Two thumbs up there.

Now there is a section at the end of chapter 21 where Warren and Betsy have to summon the X-men with the cosmic energy with Roma’s help. What would have been better in terms of that tension and “Hooray!” factor is if it would have ended on page 342 with the last line there and that the rest would have been put at the beginning of chapter 22. It’s small things like that I believe would help this book blossom overall.

At the beginning of chapter 22 on page 345, he says

“They had literally gone through hell to protect the Omniverse from the taint of the flawed Cube.”

That’s not accurate. They had not literally gone through hell. They had experienced a very dark and miserable world created by the Red Skull, but not literally hell. No comparison there.

Though I have no definitive evidence of this, I’d bet Ramon is not a plotter. He’s a free writer or pantser. I can tell because there were some plot points that felt forced, probably because he wrote himself into a little bit of a corner, especially at the end.

In the final analysis, I’d give the book a C to C+ with the whole series being about the same. It had its moments, but there were several little nuances and copious overuse of the passive voice that can’t put it in a category past that. The whole book needs a polished edit. Not bad though. I still enjoyed it.

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