Thanks to the awesome Laura of Reading in Bed (who will be guesting on our podcast next month!), the Edmonton Book Bloggers got to sit around a table last night and discuss Todd Babiak’s newest novel with the man himself.
Todd Babiak is an Edmonton author who quite clearly states that if you are in Edmonton and invite him to your book club discussion on his book, he will bring wine, homemade hummus, and himself to the discussion. Thus, this review will be not just of his book, but of the experience of book clubbing with this particular author in the room.
I was pretty relieved to have really liked the book; always a little tricky to talk to the author about a book of theirs you didn’t like. Come Barbarians is a taut, intelligent political thriller, with Bourne-esque action scenes, and a gripping main character to lead you through the intrigue. It takes place in the early ’90s in France, and Babiak has clearly done, and enjoyed, his research on the politics of that time. The novel reveals, bit by bit, many of the political issues that have led to what is currently happening in France, and gives you a greater understanding of the powder keg that modern France has the potential to be both politically and culturally. While I think this book is not meant to be a “deep” read, as someone who does revere quite a bit of the “french” way of life (the books, the food, the conversation, the education system), it did get me thinking about the kind of closed mindedness and exclusion that can come with starting to believe that one way of life is better than others.
If you’re not into the politics, Come Barbarians will get you with the torture and the fight scenes, which are also very well researched. Having done several years of martial arts myself, I was very appreciative of how excellent the fight scenes were. I’m the type of girl who annoys the heck out of her partner when watching Game of Thrones as these big, tense scenes are happening and I’m all, “Hey, that use of a sickle as a combat weapon was almost right. Nice going GOT!” So, of course, I just had to ask how Babiak got his fight scenes so spot on, and it turns out he is a former martial arts instructor with many years behind his belt(s) <insert pun snort here>. But still, knowing how to fight and knowing how to write a fight are two separate things, and Babiak clearly knows how to do both. Knowing how to place a reader in the physical space, and getting them to see the action clearly, is a skill that I think is highly overlooked by many authors, and I greatly appreciated the skill level shown in this book.
The last heaping of praise comes for the creation of Kruse. This guy is the character you want heading up a story like this, a former bodyguard of sorts, trying to live the good life, trying to be a good man. Emotionally, he is out of place in a world of violence and politics, but physically and mentally? He’s the man for the job. Yes, he’s a bit of a stereotype in this genre of novel (think a younger Liam Neeson in Taken), but he is a well-developed character that you can empathize with and be entertained by.
*Sidenote about the book: you’ll never look at a vegetable peeler the same way again.
As for the book club itself, I was a little nervous. Not only would I be conversing with the author, but I would also be meeting most of the Edmonton Book Bloggers for the first time. In new social situations, I tend to blather nervously and apologize way too much. I won’t deny that there was a little awkwardness at first, but the EBB were awesome (it was so great to finally meet in person), and Babiak’s expertise in storytelling was on display, both in how he told stories himself, and in how he got other people around the table to tell their stories. He also signed my book with something sweet about Greenwoods’. Oh, and the wine and hummus he brought? The wine was excellent, but in all honesty, the hummus needed more garlic.