First published back in December of 1989, the tenth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Northstar Rising’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
Emerging from another jump via the Mat-Trans units, Ryan Cawdor and his band of post-holocaust survivors (consisting of J.B. Dix, Krysty Wroth, Jak Lauren and Dr Theophilus Tanner, together with Tanner’s recently acquired dog Zorro) are forced to endure a second jump in quick succession when the Russian Major Commissar Gregori Zimyanin triggers the transportation process following his short lived escape.

Arriving in a stagnant and decaying redoubt, Cawdor and his companions set to investigating their immediate surroundings.  An exploratory search that soon draws hundreds of frail muties to advance on the small group.  Forced to jump a third time in the Mat-Trans unit, the travellers each experience hellish nightmares that tear away at them, as they transport once again across the hostile planes of the Deathlands.

Waking from the gut-churning third jump, the band of survivors (minus Zorro who failed to survive the jumps) soon find themselves confronted with a swarm of mutie killer bees.  Fleeing the buzzing swarm that has nested within the passageways of the redoubt, they emerge into the tropical jungle that was once Minnesota.  But Doc Tanner has not fared well following the triple jump through the gateways, his already fragile sanity slipping further and further into a tangled mess of erratic nonsense.

Nevertheless, Cawdor still has at the back of his mind the information that Rick Ginsberg had provided him before his tragic immolation.  Details concerning another cryonic complex located in Minnesota.  And so the band begin exploring their new surroundings, eventually uncovering the Wendigo Institute of Botanical Research incorporating the Blackwood Center for Chemical and Neurological Research, Military Division along with the Shelley Cryonic Institute.  Cautiously exploring the abandoned cryonic complex, Cawdor and his companions locate a litany of frozen human heads along with a small number of full-bodied freezies.

Following the same process as when they brought Ginsberg back to life, the survivors reanimate a freezie named Dr Mildred Wyeth whose details state that she was the leading US authority on cryogenics specialising in cryo-surgery.  The revival proves to be successful and the feisty black scientist joins Cawdor’s band as they emerge back into the jungle.  However, it’s not long before they encounter an advancing army of giant mutie ants who seem to possess a corrosive acid for blood.

Forced into a Texarkana stand-off up a mangrove tree, Cawdor and his companions sit out the night defending their precarious position in the tree’s branches whilst the vast number of giant ants trample the jungle’s ground below.  And off in the distance can be heard the rhythmic beating of Viking drums.  Drums that announce the presence of the Baron Karl Jorund Thoraldson’s Viking settlement in Markland.  A gathering of age old Norsemen and women who have been hit by a terrible affliction that are seeing their numbers gradually succumbing to painful deaths.  And the presence of outlanders in the vicinity offers someone to blame for the bouts of recent plague-like deaths.  Especially with Dr Mildred Wyeth’s dark skin being within their numbers...

DLS Review:
As was the case with the previous instalment into the Deathlands series, ‘Deathlands 9: Red Equinox’ (1989), author Laurence James doesn’t bother with going to any real length in detailing hardly any introductions for Ryan Cawdor or his band of post-holocaust survivors.  By now the reader should be all too familiar with these principal characters, and so (thankfully) it’s deemed that there’s no real need to set down who they are and what they’re doing.  Instead the book launches straight into the disorientating shenanigans of a triple set of Mat-Trans jumps; with the Russian Major Commissar from the previous book coming to a (very probable?) death within the very first couple of pages.

Within these initial chapters the action is somewhat reserved and quite moderately paced, with the swarm of killer bees playing a quick-fire part in the beginning storyline, along with the troglodyte like muties just adding a short-lived dose of action and violence.

Once the travellers have taken their third painful jump, James spends a somewhat lengthy chapter detailing a series of weird and disorientating nightmares for each of the survivors, which adds very little to the actual storyline other than to hammer-home the nauseating affects of undergoing three jumps in such quick succession.  And it’s only really after these slightly tedious nightmares are over that the real substance of the unfolding storyline begins to get underway.

With their feet firmly on the solid (but slightly shaky) ground of Minnesota, the pace of the novel begins to creep along.  Admittedly, it’s all quite convenient that they happen to jump to somewhere where Ginsberg stated another cryonic complex was situated.  And there was no doubting that that is exactly where they would end up – reviving another poor freezie from suspended animation.  And to be honest, these early pages do feel like they’re treading along all too similar ground to that of ‘Deathlands 8: Ice And Fire’ (1988).  But this is only reasonably short lived, and once the new character of Dr Mildred Wyeth (who seems to have been created from the same blueprint as Susannah Dean from Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ series) is added to their numbers, the tale really starts to get going.

The sudden arrival of the giant mutie ants (the size of dogs) injects a much needed shot of adrenaline into the mix.  However, this particular energetic frenzy of danger is sadly only short-lived, and it’s all over far too easily and (annoyingly) uneventfully.  It has to be said that it’s a real shame that the vast army of giant mutie ants didn’t play more of a lengthy role in the tale, with their presence in the storyline only relatively minor.

But almost as soon as the ants are out of the picture, James throws in the Vikings, with our post-holocaust survivors back in the same old situation – captive and wondering what their next move will be.  It’s a slow-burner from here on; the usual threat of danger always lurking in the background.  And of course it all comes out in due course.  But again, it’s a perhaps a bit too long in coming into fruition to be said to successfully keep the energy up.

However, the violence does come, and it’s back to the much-loved frenzy of dog-eat-dog violence, particularly when a rival colony of muties turn up for a good slaughtering.  Bloodshed and gun-porn a-go-go follows in adrenaline-pumping bursts for the entire second-half of the book.  And it’s very probably this that makes the novel another devilishly entertaining addition to the early Deathlands books.

There’s plenty going on in this second half of the novel.  James throws in twists and turns at every opportunity.  Although the novel as a whole comes across as reasonably directionless (as much as any other of the novels has any real direction that is!) James keeps the energy and entertainment value up in this latter half, with enough violence and pulse-thumping action to really hook the reader into the forefront of the Deathlands chaos.

The finale is another absolute belter.  Oh yes, the bodies fall here-there-and-everywhere, and our much-loved survivors are in the thick of all the bloodshed.  It’s a corker of an ending and just keeps the flame of the series going strong for the next instalment.

The only question left on the lips of the reader is what the hell has the mantis that appears on the cover of the book got to do with the story?  ‘Eat Them Alive’ (1977) meets ‘Deathlands’ anyone?  Now that would be one hell of an entertaining read!

The novel runs for a total of 346 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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