I could sum up this entire review saying three key words; “BAD. ASS. ROBOTS.” and why not? Mechs are enormously popular among fans of science fiction young and old, they are supremely grandiose, wildly entertaining and always find an audience, especially among those who love their Japanese geek culture. But to describe Diego Valenzuela’s debut Young Adult novel ‘The Armor Of God’  in such a complimentary yet general fashion would not only be disingenuous to the writer and the time he spent laboring over his work, but also due to the fact this book proves quite early it is so much more than popcorn and candy.
“The first book of the trilogy, THE ARMOR OF GOD, is set in a once-beautiful planet razed by a malignant alien virus called the Laani. Having effectively shielded itself from the wreckage of the world, the last remaining human settlement is Roue. Within this domed city, the last humans live comfortable lives, awaiting their inevitable extinction.
In the year of his eighteenth birthday, Ezra Blanchard must take part in military service, but when the army discovers that Ezra’s blood possesses extremely rare qualities, he is placed to be trained in Zenith, a top-secret facility hidden from the citizens of Roue where Ezra discovers humanity’s last glimmer of hope: the Creux.
These mysterious suits of armor of unknown origin and unimaginable power are the only weapon capable of battling the Laani virus on a microscopic level, and one of them can only be piloted by Ezra, a young man who doesn’t even believe humanity has a future.
Ezra enters an exciting new world full of new friends, new enemies, and new challenges, quickly understanding that training to pilot the Creux is not easy for body, mind, or spirit, and that Zenith, and its inhabitants, could hold some very dark secrets.”
– Back cover
It’s absolutely clear from ignition that Valenzuela wears his loves and passion on his sleeve because ‘The Armor Of God’ is a veritable love letter to work such as ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ (‘End of Evangelion’ is one of the authors’ favourite films I’ve been told), ‘Gundam’ with a little ‘Robotech’ on the side. But alongside the obvious inspiration for BAD ASS ROBOTS saving the world at our behest, he insinuates the notions of Stephen King, the sensibilities of George R.R. Martin with just a tinge of ‘Final Fantasy’. There is actually a twist though; despite the fact the mysterious Cruex are incredibly big, they are endowed with the ability to shrink in size in order to conduct battle with the microscopic pathogen that threatens to slay humanity. Think ‘The Fantastic Voyage’ crossed with ‘Pacific Rim’. Dude. This book may have primarily been written for the YA crowd, but Valenzuela’s prose and ideas speak far beyond his anticipated readership.
Because despite a larger than life story involving larger than life scenarios, this is a human tale. Young Ezra Blanchard has reached a landmark in his life and he has now been charged with a massive responsibility, one even he cannot quite comprehend. While clearly intelligent and capable of compassion, he is understandably reluctant because of how much of the world is being placed upon his shoulders. Given how hopeless the world he has grown up in has been, his skepticism and aversion to duty cannot be judged in black and white. When you were eighteen, you had a lot on your mind, but becoming a savior of humanity and piloting a bio-mechanical war machine sure as sugar wasn’t one of them I’d wager. Ezra is an avatar of the readers, what he feels is what we feel, what he does is what we do. Although the cast of colourful characters offer additional insight to the greater picture and embark on their own personal journeys, our foremost anchor is undoubtedly Ezra and just like the Cruex he pilots, we are bonded to him. If Valenzuela had not clearly understood this, ‘The Armor Of God’ would have had more than just a few chinks and glitches and would simply have not been as affecting and potent. This story is as much about the people as it is the reality of the situation they find themselves in.
The rest of the story is told smoothly and with no pretension. Although the reader is exposed to gradual exposition, none of it insults their intelligence. Valenzuela has faith in his audience and only places particular emphasis on where it’s needed, and mercifully it’s sporadic. Every chapter has an air of easy and enthusiastic confidence that refuses to bog down into senseless repetition and self-indulgence which is incredibly refreshing to see in a science fiction story. Although the argument could be made that Valenzuela’s work is not revolutionary or game-changing, it has a whale of a time via sparkling execution and loving attention to crucial detail. Likewise, detractors may say that Valenzuela’s work is nothing more than glorified fan fiction, I would have to disagree for several reasons;
1) Valenzuela has created his very own mythos here and adheres to it with no wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to established franchises.
2) Apart from being creative, there is a strong sense ‘The Armor Of God’ is taking its own path rather than broaching a similar revelation we have already seen. Considering there are two more books to come, the quest of Ezra Blanchard is far from concluded with boundless surprises, twists and possible sacrifices.
3) It’s far better written than fan fiction, I mean look at ’50 Shades of Grey’ for crying out loud. HOLY COW.
‘The Armor Of God’ is a sterling freshman effort from a promising author who is content and secure in the tale he wishes to share with us. Inspired but not derivative, heady but never gratuitous, fantastic yet at the same time organic, you owe it to yourself to have a damn good read of this book and revel in the celebration of the wild geek spirit and the human soul that lies beneath it. Just like a Cruex.
Bring it on, Mr. Valenzuela!
Bonus review by Doge-
so first time author. much promising. very big robots. many aliens. such epic. wow.