"Sabbath" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Tor Books
Written by Nick Mamatas
2019, 304 pages, Fiction
Released on November 19th, 2019
Author Nick Mamatas has a unique voice that allows him to write novels that, like the tone of certain guitarists, are inimitable and easily recognizable. That’s why I was skeptical about Sabbath, his latest release. Sabbath is a novel loosely based on the graphic novel Sabbath: All Your Sins Reborn, written by Matt Tamao, so I feared it wouldn’t truly be a Mamatas book. I was wrong. Sabbath is a smart, violent, hilarious narrative packed with the stylish writing, crisp dialogue, and sharp philosophical morsels that make Mamatas’ work so great.
Hexen Sabbath is an eleventh-century warrior who lives on and for the battlefield. When not fighting, he is drinking, cavorting with women, or committing some other kind of sin. When he dies in battle, he is pulled from death and the quick trip to hell that would surely follow by an angel who drops him, naked, weaponless, and with a special tattoo on his arm, in contemporary Manhattan. Sabbath is in the Big Apple on a mission: he must track down and kill the living personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins before they destroy the world. While he possesses a bit of knowledge about modern times, he remains a man of his time and is forced to adapt to New York and modern life while looking for sins to decapitate. What follows is a wild, bloody, uproarious journey through both the upper echelons and the seedy underbelly of New York City in which Sabbath encounters what he’s looking for and is forced to constantly battle to stay alive while fighting to save the world.
The opening chapter of Sabbath lets you know there is a lot of fun packed into the pages that follow. Mamatas embraced this project and decided to see how far he could go in terms of pulpy action while also filling the narrative with funny repartee and deep insights, which usually come from the sins. Also, Hexen is a likeable character whom readers will empathize with even if they don’t want to because he is a simple man thrown into a strange world and burdened with a mission that that would crush most men for unique reasons:
You, Hexen Sabbath, are uniquely immune from their influences because, to be perfectly honest about it, you are an absolutely loathsome and degenerate sinner. You can sink no further. The sins cannot influence and corrupt you as they would any other champion. The Lord has tasked me with the weighing of souls, and I’ve rarely seen one so densely wicked as yours.
Besides his knack for pacing and superb economy of language, one of the elements of Mamatas’ work that I greatly enjoy is his knack for dialogue. It shines in this book. There is a combination of elegance, humor, and poetry that makes some of the dialogue feel timeless, which is a superb fit for the narrative. Take as an example these words uttered by Lust:
You have come to the wrong place if you wish to challenge Lust, fool. You should be battering down the doors of the halls of power, or even the humble apartments these animals live in. How many women had their lives ruined by the lusts of men? You see us as nothing but slaves and incubators, and they tell us the great lie—that we women are some unfathomable mystery that only art and culture can plomb. Lust is an ugly emotion that hides like a dark worm within the apple of beauty.
Every time Sabbath finds a sin, the ensuing conversations are just as great. Mamatas manages to make the sins worth listening to. You might not agree with everything they say, but some of the points they make will make many readers nod their heads. Other times, they will be forced to realize the accuracy and timeliness of some of what they say, even if they have to disagree. Greed is a perfect example:
The system works, my friend. Everyone is better off when people are allowed to be greedy, and not hampered by notions of charity of hamstrung by a government working for aristocratic looters.
Sabbath is thrown into a world he has a hard time understanding, and readers will empathize with him because some of the nonsense he encounters baffles most of us. That his journey is also full of all sorts of pulpy goodness, snappy dialogue, sex, and violence is just icing on the proverbial cake. The world Sabbath experiences is the same one we live in. It is a strange world that makes him wonder: “This world was a strange place, and so full of wonder and convenience that he could not even understand how war and strife continue to exist, save for mankind’s propensity for sin.” Yeah, we’ve all wondered the same thing. Now go read this book. It’d be a sin not to.
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