Watchers on the Walls is Christopher L. Bennett’s first venture into the world of novels based on the Marvel Universe. In it, the X-Men try to protect a bunch of aliens seeking refugee on Earth while they are attacked by other aliens. But when they learn all about the refugees, and the danger they could represent to Earth, they have to reconsider their position, and reluctantly join forces with the attackers, the government and even Sentinels. But can they really trust all their “allies”, and is there really no peaceful way to settle the situation?
Watchers on the Walls certainly is well-written and is a nice way to kill some time, but there are several things preventing it to reach the quality of Bennett’s best works. In my opinion the similarities between the situation of Muslims in America today (or other “enemy” minorities in countries during wars for that matter) and the situation of the inhuman-looking mutants is a bit too obvious. It’s normal for authors to use contemporary or past events for their stories, but I prefer when this is done more subtly than it was done here.
Another thing is that I’m not sure Bennett’s writing really is a perfect match for the X-Men. While X-Men certainly isn’t limited to action, in my opinion it doesn’t really fit the more cerebral style of Christopher L. Bennett. Don’t get me wrong, he pulls off an interesting story and doesn’t get too lost in science. But while his action scenes are adequate, they just don’t really feel “natural”, for lack of a better word.
One thing he manages very well, though, is to keep the basic theme of X-Men, their fight for equal rights for mutants and ultimately unity among normal humans and mutants, but giving it another spin by actually making them part of the “other” side for a while this time. Of course, in the end, the whole conflict is resolved a bit quickly, but that’s an effect of having to deal with the issue inside just one medium-length novel, and doesn’t take anything away from the good work Bennett did in this regard.
The plot with the Chlorids was interesting and really is the main point holding this book above average. The idea of an invasion by a species which is dangerous to humans just by their existence is a nice set up for the novel and was used very well by Christopher L. Bennett. The ultimate conclusion is a bit unsatisfying – just sending them to another universe where their way of living is dominant – which feels a bit like a cop-out. But I guess Bennett knows about that, since the characters in the book actually talk about this, and he was just aiming for the most realistic solution, not the most satisfying for the readers.
My X-Men knowledge is rather limited, so I can’t say too much about how accurate and faithful most of the characters were depicted, but overall I had the feeling that the author was able to make most of the books characters work rather well. One major exception would be Gyrich, he was just a cringeworthy one-dimensional moustache-twirling villain, and his appearances in the book actually made me roll my eyes. I’m not sure if that simply was how he was depicted before, from what I’ve seen of him in the book I assume he isn’t an original character of this novel, but from an author like Bennett I would have thought that he would be able to give him a bit more depth. The “pupils” of Xavier’s school were interesting, but got too little “screen time” for my taste.
Over all, a decent novel with an interesting main plot, but some little weaknesses preventing this novel from being a real page-turner.
Watchers on the Walls (by Christopher L. Bennett) was released by Pocket Star in May 2006.