Monday, December 30, 2013

Microreview (book) : Once Upon A Time In Hell (Heaven's Gate 2) by GuyAdams


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The Left-Over Xmas Turkey Meat

So, back in the Spring I posted a review of the first part of Guy Adams's 'Heaven's Gate' trilogy and ended with this comment : "Bring on part two next year, as this is darn good, rootin'-tootin', gun-slinging fun". 

I'd like to apologise for that. Sure, I've been to a cowboy boot store in Kansas, I've drunk whisky in Santa Fe and I've successfully panned for gold (in Legoland in Denmark, but it still counts), but I have no right to write such cod Wild West nonsense. I'm sat in a Victorian flat in London wearing a cardigan and sipping ginger tea. The only Westerny things in my eyeline are the 'Dude' in the 'Dude, Where's My Car?' credits on the telly, and the cat's Lee Van Cleef stare. Ok, at the time I wrote the review I was actually sat by the side of the Mekong river so had at least a little Martin Sheen voiceover in my head but that's no excuse. Especially concerning a book written by a Brit with a superb and uncorny usage of Old West lingo.

At least, however, the emotion behind such misguided word-smithery was genuine. I really liked The Good, The Bad and The Infernal. Its mix of old and new ingredients was refreshing, and the story wild, silly and moving in equal measure. The first part concluded with the various characters, after hellish journeys, all meeting at the mythical town of Wormwood, as it appeared out of thin air in the desert. Whether this town was truly a gateway to the afterlife was a debate running through the story, and this second novel swiftly follows to provide an answer.

Without spoiling too much, the answer is affirmative, but it's what form this afterlife takes, and what levels of it emerge, that occupy these pages. As the key players from part one gradually enter into the world beyond, Adams lets rip with wonderful imaginative leaps. Whereas before the fantasy elements were brief and jarring, here they are at the centre of the tale. As one character gambles aboard a paddleboat full of freaks across a lake of corpses, another has a chat with Heaven's administrator in a glass cube floating above all time and space. 

The narrative is very much in the same vein as the first volume - episodic and flitting between places and people - but is freer of the need to introduce so many characters at once, and so builds a better atmosphere and visual landscape than The Good... . It also has one of the best final lines in any fantasy novels I've ever read. No spoilers of course but it's a bit like Philip Pullman directed by Sam Peckinpah. 

As the middle section of a trilogy the story is a bit Two Towers; lots of momentum and incident, but no finality. And the quick recap of someone's tale as we first see them is annoying; it's necessary perhaps to jog our memory but would be done better in speech between people than simply telling the reader, which lurches them out of viewing things from a character's perspective. Only one other minor quibble would be that I didn't find 'hell' hellish enough - it sounds a bit like a psychedelic Rockies with blood lakes, and generally laid-back eccentrics more than violent demons. Freshingly-different, perhaps, and in line with Adams's apparent desire to show a largely non-religious and unconventional view of the afterlife, but not very scary.

Yet this book apes the trick of its predecessor : characters I cared about, imaginative action I enjoyed, and a lasting desire to read the next in the series. So, bring on part three, as this is darn good, rootin... Sorry.

The Math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for an original and weird take on the afterlife; +1 for new and amusing characters like a succubus and a talking tree.

Penalties: -1 not horrific enough to be horrifying

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

Lee Van Cleef :





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