Kingmaker, by Christian Cantrell [review]

While no one can match the razor-sharp intensity of Neuromancer, there is plenty of room for writers to slot their books in the midst of William Gibson's later works, those multi-faceted stories that intertwine like a mutant caduceus to bring three tales to a head. Kingmaker by Christian Cantrell is one of those books.

The book, published last year by Amazon's 47North imprint, is a straight-ahead tale of a "heartless" assassin (his real heart is replaced by a mechanical one) named Alexei Drovosek. Drovosek's goal is to watch the old world burn and a new world take its place. With the help of an AI named Emma and a team of children he is training to take down the world's major business entities, he aims to bring freedom back to the planet.

It is, in short, a tall order. Does Cantrell pull it off? I think he does.


The style in this book is dense and reference-rich. There are brand names galore, hardware that would make Q horny, and enough of a careening storyline to keep you going. Some reviewers have complained of a bit of muddle near the end but I didn't see it, and instead saw a solid, fun cyberpunk tale.

Books like Kingmaker are hard to find. There is plenty of hard sci-fi but rarely is it grounded in the way Cantrell grounds his story. Suspension of disbelief is easy when you hit dystopian planetoids peopled by evil aliens but harder when you're talking about LA a few years into the future. Cantrell has a designer's eye that is rooted in hard engineering – he is a long-time watch writer and programmer – and his training comes out in this rigorously plotted book.

Like Gibson's own worlds, in some way you want Kingmaker by Kingmaker to come true. For every murderous multi-national and stone-cold killer there is a strange sense of wonder at the marvelous (and nefarious) changes time will bring to future Earth. That, then, is what makes Kingmaker interesting – that struggle between fear of the the future and the joy of prediction. Luckily Cantrell is a good enough writer to show us both sides and loves his story enough to make it pleasure to follow him through it.