First published back in December of 1988, the eighth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Ice And Fire’, was written by the series’ first author and creator - Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
Ryan Cawdor and his five companions emerge from the familiar set-up of a Mat-Trans gateway following another random jump across the wastelands of the Deathlands.  The redoubt that the group of hardened post-apocalyptic travellers find themselves within this time turns out to include a very intriguing additional sub-section.  A cryogenics unit is housed in the secure inner structure, where a number of individuals have been frozen since before the world went to hell.  Individuals from the past, frozen through time to be awakened here, in the horrifying new reality of the Deathlands.

After setting the defrosting sequence in motion for those capsules that are still functioning after all these years, Cawdor and his troupe find just one survivor able to survive the risky defrosting process.  And so Richard Neal Ginsberg emerges from the cryogenics capsules, severely weakened but somehow still alive.

After questioning this incredibly shocked survivor from long-forgotten years, Cawdor learns of Ginsberg’s high-B sec rating from before the nuking first kicked-off.  Although his memory has been considerably affected by the trauma of the prolonged freezing, Ginsberg still remembers that he had something to do with the running of the Mat-trans gateways.  Cawdor is more than a little intrigued.

Deciding to explore the land outside of the sealed off redoubt, the group of seven clamber down the steep mountainside where the doorway and make their way through the thick forest and out into the open dusty plains that run alongside the mountainous landscape of the Sierras in what was once California.

But before long their trekking is thrust into danger when the group are confronted by a gigantic mutant snake bearing a thick steel collar.  Lori Quint comes close to becoming the beast’s next victim, only to have Doc and the rest of the group jump to her rescue.  With the snake now slaughtered the band of tired travellers trek onwards to the nearby town of Snakefish.

After meeting with a band of tough Hell’s Angels bikers calling themselves the Last Heroes that constitute as the town’s sec men, Cawdor and his companions are allowed into the town of Snakefish, where the nearby gasoline plant has made the residents particularly wealthy by Deathlands standards.

There they meet with the Baron Edgar Brennan who supplies them with enough local jack to see them through the next few days in the town.  Such generosity towards outlanders is certainly rare in the Deathlands.  A trait that has not been all that popular with the baron’s fellow townspeople.  None more so than the powerful Mote family.

And it’s not long before Cawdor and his gang are introduced to this particularly prominent family.  Early on in their first morning at Snakefish, the group are pushed into attending the local service, held by Norman Mote and his hideous wife Marianne Mote.  And here, in the Shrine of the Blessed Serpents of the Apocalyptic Gospel of the Martyred Marcus the Peripatetic, the group learn of the strange religious devotion the townspeople have adopted.  One wrapped up in the symbol of the snake and preached with zeal by the Mote family.  A family that are threatening to take over the whole town.

It’s all been coming to a head at the time when Cawdor and his companions have just turned up.  And, having killed the towns prized mutant pet snake, Azrael, trouble is certainly in the air...

DLS Review:
For this eighth instalment into the epic series, author Laurence James sticks to an already well-used formula, in which we have another Deathlands town that’s on the verge of war with itself, having become divided by two powerful and equally prosperous families.  So okay, it’s textbook Deathlands (and I say that after being only eight books in), but it’s a tried and tested formula that just works so damn well.

Aside from the feuding town setup, the novel includes the usual handful of mutant beasties (here a swarm of flesh-hungry cockroaches and of course our good pal Azrael), as well as the standard trigger-happy ego-tripping louts and power mad leaders.  It’s 100% paint-by-numbers Deathlands, from start to finish.  The only exception being the introduction of Ginsberg and the ‘Lori Quint’ subplot.

Bringing in the character of Richard Ginsberg from the past seems to almost double-up the Doc Tanner character-slot, now with two potentially feeble travellers generally slowing down the trekking.  Ginsberg doesn’t really add much to the overall storyline, other than holding-back the group somewhat and adding a mildly annoying ‘passive’ point-of-view.  Indeed, the vague hint of usefulness in his past involvement with the Mat-trans units, is pretty much the only thing that keeps him in with Cawdor’s group.  But putting that aspect to the side, and Ginsberg really adds very little by way of input or entertainment.

However, on the other side of the coin, Lori Quint’s presence in the tale has a dramatic bearing on the proceeding storyline.  The young blond teenager has become somewhat of a nerve-grating brat, who literally jumps at every opportunity to throw a hissy fit or attempt to bring down her supposed lover, the good old Doc Tanner.  The subplot takes a much more direct and impactful route when the band reaches Snakefish, whereupon Quint makes some startlingly foolish decisions that end with some utterly surprising implications within the continuing series.

Outside of all of this, what the reader is left with is another fast-paced, elaborately over-the-top gun-wielding post-apocalyptic violence-fest, with plenty of characters and craziness to keep the reader thoroughly entertained.  There are no all-out-courageous antics for the simple sake of the righteous.  Deathlands is grittier than that.  It’s just another good helping of dog-eat-dog violence, with a hefty horde of Stickies thrown in for good measure.

It’s all good!

The novel runs for a total of 348 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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