First published back in May of 1988, the sixth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Pony Soldiers’ was written by the initial author and creator of the series - Laurence James under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
After jumping to their previous redoubt location in Alaska, Cawdor and his small band of post-apocalyptic survivors quickly take the immediate decision to re-trans-jump to another location.  Their memories of their previous time spent in Alaska are far from pleasant (particularly for Lori), so the decision came with little objetion and they were once again jumped to a new and no doubt equally hostile location within the savage world of the Deathlands.

Painfully awakening from a second jump in as many minutes, the group of six make their way out of the redoubt into the blazing heat of what was once New Mexico.  Trekking across the scorched desert landscape, Cawdor and his small group of soldiers soon find themselves in need of water, nourishment and a safe area to settle down for the night.  However, after locating what seems like a reasonably suitable place for them to rest up for the cold night, fourteen-year-old Jak Lauren falls foul of a hidden pit-trap; near-fatally wounding the young fighter.

Desperately seeking medical aid to save the albino lad’s life, the group attempt to flag down a passing regiment of what appears to be pony soldiers from the eighteenth century.  The leader of the troop even appears to resemble the notorious cavalry commander from the American Civil War - General George Custer.  With his long flowing yellow hair and identically matched blue uniform, which is also worn by all of his fellow pony soldiers, Doc Tanner begins to wonder if perhaps they chron-jumped through time instead of merely by location when they last used the Mat-Trans unit.

Something about the leader of the pony soldiers brings back haunting memories from Cawdor’s past.  A memory he can’t quite place.  But as they try to call for aid, the troops are suddenly ordered to kill Cawdor’s group.  Just when it looks like their time is up, rescue comes in the form of a large band of equally historically equipped Apaches.

Taken back to the Apache’s permanent camp within the sky-scraping cliffs of Drowned Squaw Canyon, Cawdor’s group learn of the continuous war that is been fought between the Apaches and these eighteenth-century looking sec men.  Whilst Jak Lauren is gradually healed by the Apaches’ spiritual healer – Man Whose Eyes See More, Cawdor agrees to lend the Apache warriors their assistance in their struggle against the pony soldiers.

A devious plan is formulated to ambush the sec men under the guise of a peaceful negotiation.  A plan that greatly underestimates their foe.  And one which holds the horrific consequences of Cawdor himself being taken by surprise and captured.  Now Cawdor’s close friends must fight side-by-side with the Apaches to rescue their leader.  For the sec men have torture and revenge in their blood.  And as such, Ryan Cawdor’s life could be over very, very shortly…

DLS Review:
Crossing the usual action-packed post-apocalyptic violence-fest with a gritty western, ‘Pony Soldiers’ takes on a dramatic change in scenery and premise to the previous tales.  However, much of the gritty violence is still there, if not cranked up a notch, with many quite frankly gruesome scenes of sadistic torture springing up throughout the latter two-thirds of the novel.

Laurence keeps up an intriguing air of slight-mystery for the initial portion of the novel, until the plot is set down and the action is suddenly cranked-up with Cawdor’s capture.  From here on it’s gun-violence a-go-go, with plenty of edge-of-the-seat action crammed into each and every page.

There are a number of harsh scenes as well as mildly thought provoking ideas around the levels of violence deemed acceptable and the principals of ‘honour’, all thrown into this glorious post-apocalyptic mix.  The re-emergence of a predominant villain from the group’s past adds an excellent touch to the compelling storyline – with much weight given to the uncovering of this individual (although a small hint early on in the novel slightly gives the game away).

The tale races along at a-mile-a-minute until the final showdown and then to an all-too-familiar gruesome conclusion consisting of some pretty graphic torture.  Ending on an impactful note, the novel suddenly throws in one final punch with the sudden inclusion of a new addition to Cawdor’s band.  This whet’s the reader’s appetite excellently for the next novel in this epic saga – ‘Dectra Chain’ (1988).

Al in all, the novel is the usual immensely enjoyable over-the-top post-apocalyptic treat, playing out another action filled scenario for Cawdor and his gang to be pitted up against.  Laurence certainly hasn’t lost his touch with setting down an exciting and gripping tale, which will certainly keep the series’ readers grinning from ear to ear.

The novel runs for a total of 348 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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