First published back in June of 1986, Christopher Lowder (together with Laurence James who completed the last quarter of the novel) under the joint-pseudonym of Jack Adrian unleashed the first novel in the truly-epic post-apocalyptic series of novels collectively titled ‘Deathlands’.  This first instalment was suitably entitled ‘Pilgrimage To Hell’ and was the only novel in the long running series not to adopt the house name James Axler.  The novel paved the way for an awe-inspiring vision of survival within a bleak world that had been ravaged by nuclear warfare.

DLS Synopsis:
On 20th January 2001, the Cold War came to a catastrophic point whereby the Soviet Union detonated underground nuclear bombs within the basement of the Washington based Soviet embassy.  The result was an all out conflict of massive proportions between the two goliath nations.  Nuclear weaponry devastated the landscape of both continents, leaving a toxic and nigh-on unliveable environment for the majority of life as we once knew it.  What was once known as the United States of America was reduced to a highly hazardous wasteland.  Not much is known of how well the rest of the planet fared.  Over the following nuclear winter, dubbed ‘Sky Dark’, the few survivors hid from the world, scavenging within caves and amongst the dirt in an attempt to carve out some form of existence.  Those that survived inherited this new godforsaken land.  A land they named the ‘Deathlands’.

Now, one hundred years later, a new form of civilization is gradually taking back any liveable portions of this bleak landscape.  Amongst those who now scratch out a living within the Deathlands are a vast array of mutants.  Pockets of civilization are scattered across the wastelands, where these new breeds of life exist in Villes and Baronies ruled by often cruel and power-hungry Barons.   Life is brutal and uncertain for everyone.  No man, woman or child (mutant or otherwise) is safe anymore.

Trading becomes a vital role in the lives of these people.  Twentieth century weaponry that has been unearthed and salvaged is by far the highest valued currency.  One man, whose fortune and wise forethought has led him to numerous hidden stockpiles which pre-Nuke military men had laid down before all hell broke loose, stands head and shoulders above every other trader.  This man, a legend across the entirety of the Deathlands, is known to all as ‘The Trader’.   Within his arsenal of impressive weaponry are colossal vehicles named War Wags.  Within these highly armoured and fortified machines, The Trader and his elite unit of diehard personnel, travel across the Deathlands trading with those that wish to call upon his services.  One of those amongst his loyal numbers is his war captain - Ryan Cawdor.  Since their meeting, Cawdor himself has become almost as notorious and revered across the length and breath of the Deathlands as the Trader.  Their other companions, men and women alike, make up the most formidable and dangerous troop to travel the land.

However, when the corrupt Baron Jordan Teague attempts to wipe out the Trader and his select army of personnel, in order to take possession of his heavy weaponry and  War Wags, Cawdor together with the few survivors from the deceitful ambush have no choice but to fight back with all they’ve got.  Heavy casualties on both sides are to be expected. 

Meanwhile, the Trader’s health is quickly deteriorating.  The enemy’s numbers and surprise attack have taken the advantage, but Cowder and the Trader's loyal troops won’t give up easily.  And talk of a possible stockpile greater than any they have ever encountered before, located way up high in The Darks where a noxious fog reportedly awaits anyone who ventures up the mountain stretch, has caught the imagination of Cawdor and the flaming red haired woman they recently rescued.  Times are certainly tough...and they’re not likely to get any easier...

DLS Review:
From the outset, Lowder (aka Jack Adrian) meticulously sets down the intrinsic back-story to this elaborate post-apocalyptic setting.  In doing so, the novel starts with an almighty thump to the reader’s chest, with a haunting vision of how easily the world could have been reduced to nigh-on nothing.  Indeed, written in 1986, at the time when the Cold War was very much a nervous and all-too-real concept, gives the premise behind the near annihilation of mankind a truly gut-wrenching feel of reality. 

With the back-story thoroughly established, Lowders harsh new world, dubbed the Deathlands, is introduced with an unforgiving pace, with the reader thrust into the hectic and dangerous existence that surrounds the characters.  Lowder skilfully maps out an atmospheric and utterly bleak landscape, with such a vivid image of this terrifying new existence set out for the reader to become wholly absorbed within.

Each and every character that is introduced within the tale is carefully brought to life with such great love and a passionate eye for detail.  Indeed, the intrinsic characterisation throughout, draws the reader deep into the throngs of these savage and desperate men and women.

The pace is fast and punctuated with bursts of impactful action and violence.  Furthermore, not even for a second does the novel let up from either pouring on sheer edge-of-the-seat action, or uncovering another layer to the vast elaborate understanding of the Deathlands and all that festers within.

This first novel is very much a tale for the reader to first get to grips with the principal characters, the premise, the array of elaborate mutants, and the various states of the new civilization.  Even amongst all of this, Lowder still manages to maintain an adrenaline filled plot that leaps from twist to twist until the final head-spinning finale is ultimately set down by (later to become Deathlands Veteran) Laurence James.

For a stand alone novel this is a triumphant piece of intrinsic and action filled post-apocalyptic fury.  For the first novel in a truly epic journey, this is an absolute masterpiece.  The scene is well and truly set.  The characters are lovingly introduced.  The world is now in place for Cawdor to carve out a future for him and his small band of loyal troops.  ‘Pilgrimage To Hell’ has taken the first steps along a long and treacherous path that will draw you deep into this savage and utterly encapsulating new existence.  This is the true beginning of the Deathlands.

The novel runs for a total of 381 pages.

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