Book Review: 'The Bane of Yoto' by Joshua Viola


While we've devoted quite a bit of e-space to the artists of FIXT – a music label founded by Klayton of cyber-rock unit Celldweller – this is the first opportunity to examine a new cross-platform media venture by the company that could be the start of something big. With The Bane of Yoto, author, animator and videogame artist Joshua Viola has launched a mammoth dark-fantasy epic filled to overflowing with monsters, brutal battles and oceans of blood. While Viola's original novel, co-written with Nicholas Karpuk, is the first work of fiction released by FIXT's new publishing arm, it's only one facet of a larger project: originally planned as the protagonist in an epic video game concept, the ultra-violent antihero of the title is also the star of an ongoing animated comic app accompanied by a soundtrack of Celldweller songs (always a good thing). Obviously a lot of time and effort went into developing Yoto as a new breed of sci-fi/horror hero, but right now I want to go straight to the heart of the matter and give you the breakdown on the novel itself.

Our protagonist can scarcely be called a hero when we first meet him as a child – the meek youngest son in a family of Numah, a blue-skinned humanoid race (“Numah” is an anagram for “human”) enslaved by the cruel and warlike Olokun, a biomechanical species who grow organic armor and weapons like insect exoskeletons. As if the Numah didn't have enough problems on their three-fingered hands, both they and their captors live in constant terror of an unseen godlike enemy known as the Arbitrators, whose earlier assault rendered their home planet Ajyin uninhabitable. Dreading the monsters' return, the Olokun, under the command of the fearsome General Vega, relocated to Ajyin's moon Neos, enslaving the Numah to mine raw materials for the Aegis – a living shield that, when completed, just might save their new home from the Arbitrators' return.
Much later, as a young adult, Yoto has done nothing to redeem himself in the reader's eyes; having risen to a relatively cushy administrative position among the Numah workers, he barters with the Olokun for a few meager privileges and deals drugs on the side, all of which thoroughly disgusts his older brother Eon. After all, Eon is the leader of a disorganized but slowly growing slave rebellion on Neos, and his plans to overthrow their oppressors don't really jive with Yoto's cowardice. Not to mention it's only a matter of time before the half insane General – or worse, his crafty, backstabbing son Cadoc – catch wind of the rebels' plan and unleash hell in retaliation, condemning all suspected traitors to death in their blood-soaked arena.
So, you may ask, why should we be rooting for this spineless bureaucrat when his brother is so obviously rock-jawed hero material? That's an easy one: note the huge-ass knife sticking out of Yoto's chest in the cover art (which could easily double as an album for a German power-metal band)? That's a magical talisman, infused with the power of gods by the sorceress Lagaia as part of an ages-old plan. When Yoto finds himself on the business end of the dagger, his former self dies, and he is reborn as a hulking monstrosity with supernatural strength and abilities – powers which Eon and the rebels see as the ultimate weapon against the Olukun. But overthrowing the yoke of Numah slavery is only the first of many challenges... and Yoto's transformation is about to take a horrifying turn that neither his enemies nor his allies could have predicted.
Like any proper blood-and-guts war story, the world of Yoto is boiling with conspiracies, treason, spying, chases, assassinations and mass slaughter of innocents; as you can imagine, it's never subtle for even a moment, but I'm sure Viola never intended it to be so, and it seldom bogs down in excessive exposition. In fact, I was slammed into the story so violently, I occasionally found myself scrambling to pick up plot pieces as the book raced from one bloody confrontation to the next. The pace slows a bit as the players concoct their various schemes, but the storytelling remains clean and straightforward, with a small core of main characters, whose thoughts and motives are clear and distinct... and whose plans often go astray in gruesome ways.
Admittedly, they're all broad-stroke comic book archetypes – the conflicted Hulk type superhero, the scheming master villain and his henchmen, the pure and noble heroine, the weaselly traitor, and the amoral magician guiding events in secret – but each faces his challenges in a believable and compelling way. It's further enhanced by a seriously creepy alien environment: the Olokun literally grow their technology and architecture out of slimy, living material – which they can control and shape by linking to their nervous systems like the Na'vi in Avatar – and they breed beasts for machine-like skills, resulting in tanks, bulldozers and hand weapons that are both tools and symbiotic pets. Even the drugs are alive, which results in some gloopy scenes reminiscent of David Cronenberg's Videodrome or Existenz. Forgive the pun, but it's a fully fleshed-out world, blending body horror, space opera and mythic fantasy in equal proportions.
The Bane of Yoto is book one in a planned trilogy, but even so there's a good feeling of dramatic closure to the story, with enough of a hook in the tail to get me in the mood or more. I shouldn't worry about waiting too long: this big blue badass will reappear in many other forms, including a very cool 3D animated app; check out a preview of Episode 1 below. For a full overview of the creators' plan, there's plenty of info at the official site, including a Facebook petition to finally get the Yoto videogame off the ground. Be sure to drop by and have a look.
If you like what you've seen so far, be sure to visit FEARnet's Twitter feed today for a chance to win a Bane of Yoto prize bundle – including the novel (trade paperback size, over 500 pages), e-book, t-shirt, and the comic app.