The Leonard Regime follows a young prisoner turned rebel as he and his friends try shoot up the cronies of the corrupt U.S. dictator, President Leonard. It’s a solid enough concept, but serious shortcomings in the presentation and content keep the story from ever taking off. First, the world isn’t well presented and the situations the characters find themselves in aren’t believable. Second, the author uses first person and falls into the trap of being too casual with the reader, so the book never has the right tone that it should. Finally, the pacing never gives the world time to evolve or the characters to grow.
What the reader knows about the world is usually presented in first person bursts of exposition. Although we’re told why the world is the way it is, we’re never really shown any proof of that. There’s never a sense of oppression, of a world chafing under the rule of President Leonard. Instead, the bad guys show up to shoot the good guys on cue because it’s their job to. It’s one thing to say that people are living under a oppressive regime but quite another to make the reader feel the same oppression as the characters do and rail against it. And, for a book like this one to work, that’s essential.
Additionally, most of Leonard’s henchmen shoot about as well as drunken hamsters. There’s never a sense of danger in any of the situations the characters get into even though every single one of them should have been dead several times over. Their escapes are too convenient, and it’s just not believable that a man who seized control of the U.S. would not have competent secret police. More than once, I found myself baffled by the fact that the main characters got away with what they did.
Worse, when any character actually suffers what should be the natural consequences of his or her actions, there’s never an appropriate build up to it. One moment, the characters are careening along mowing down trained soldiers like the slow kid (me) at a dodge ball game, and the next one of the previously invulnerable characters is dead. It’s like a switch flipping between ‘escape unscathed’ and ‘doom’ that saps the tension out of all of the action. Ultimately, I found myself waiting for the story to hand the characters another easy escape instead of focusing on the action itself.
As mentioned above, the author wrote this book in first person. I have a love hate relationship with the tense because it tends to work well or fail, and there’s rarely a middle ground. Here, the author takes a conversational, sarcastic tone with the reader via the main character that never sat well with me. Having someone sarcastic narrating a story set to the backdrop of an oppressive government does not work that well unless the presentation of the world, or the events of the story, are so bleak that some manner of humor is necessary to keep the reader going through it all. Even then, there are only a few particular brands of sarcasm that work well, and that of the teenage sort really isn’t one of them.
The casual tone made it hard to tell if it was the character or the author speaking at any given time, and the author used it as a shortcut to communicate bursts of exposition that would have been better presented if the reader was left to figure the world out for him or herself. It’s easy to tell the reader everything he or she needs to know, but it doesn’t make for an engaging story. This also holds true for character development.
Whenever the main character, Daniel, had something on his mind, he told the reader about it directly. I’ve said this before, but I really enjoy figuring out who the characters are and what they’re thinking, and I never had the chance to do that here. Everyone clearly fell into a certain category of stock character, and there was one in particular, Brandon, who I couldn’t fathom. He was intended as comic relief, but since there was already a sarcastic main character, Brandon didn’t really contribute anything to the story besides being remarkably stupid.
Finally, there’s the pacing itself. There’s rarely more than three or four pages before the characters are running, shooting, or otherwise navigating their way through another dangerous situation. The first problem with this is that, since they are always in transit, it’s difficult for the author to flesh out the world. The only glimpses the reader gets are fleeting, and there’s never enough there to say anything meaningful about the world.
The second issue is that the characters don’t really have room to grow. Sure, people die, someone cries about it, or someone else gets angry, but there’s just not enough material beyond a quick post combat rundown to give the reader a chance to really feel for the character. They end up being people that stuff happens to in the same way that 1 and 2 happen to equal 3 when added together. It’s a detached understanding, with obvious results and lacking in passion.
Apologies to any mathematicians with strong feelings on the subject.
Ultimately, the author does not effectively communicate the setting or the characters. The situations the characters find themselves in and survive are not believable, which drains the tension out of the story, and the pace of the novel exacerbates these issues. It was a good faith effort, but unfortunately The Leonard Regime falls flat.
If you want to check it out, you can pick up a copy here.