First published back in June of 1990, the eleventh instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Time Nomads’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
Having undergone another jump via the Mat-Trans units, Ryan Cawdor and his band of post-apocalyptic survivors emerge in another abandoned redoubt somewhere within the length and breadth of the Deathlands.  However, as the six travelling-survivalists move out from the Mat-Trans unit, the Gateway door crashes down behind them, jamming shut and leaving them with a near-impenetrable vanadium steel sec-door to get through if they wish to return to the Mat-Trans gateway.

With little options arising, the band begin to explore the expansive redoubt, noticing the numerous wires above their heads which J.B. Dix guesses are wired up to an intricate defence bomb.  With signs of severe land movements around the redoubt, they soon realise they have little to no hope of finding a way out of the redoubt.  And then things go from bad to worse when Cawdor ingests the contents of some pre-sky-dark self-heats which he stubbornly finishes.  The result is a life-threatening case of Botulism.

Ryan Cawdor’s condition worsens by the second until he slips into a coma, his vital signs continuing to weaken.  With little in the way of useful medication to aid her, Mildred Wyeth attempts to concoct a cocktail of drugs in the hope that they get lucky and the mixture has some positive effect on their paralyzed and dying patient.

However, for Ryan Cawdor the experience is something far removed from the critical reality of his fragile coma.  His mind travels back to his past, some ten years ago, when he acted as the War Captain for the Trader.  Travelling aboard the Trader’s two heavily armoured War Wag’s, the highly trained and organised trading party were en route to Towse ville, near to what was once Albuquerque, where they planned to do some trading for fuel and ammunition with the wealthy and notorious Baron Alias Carson.

But as they near the ville, the Trader and his crew come upon a group of travellers being ambushed by a well-armed band of attackers.  However, the ambushing fighters are no match for the two War Wags, and the fight is over before it has barely begun.

After showing almost no pity on the family they had just rescued, the Trader’s party move on to Towse where the reception they receive is hardly a warm one.  Learning that the ambushing fighters that they had just encountered (and subsequently chilled many of) comprised of the Baron’s own men, the Trader and his party are instantly off on a wrong foot with Carson.

However, a trade in fuel, ammunition and supplies is nevertheless still promised.  But the Trader is informed that they must first wait for the supplies to arrive.  The Trader and Cawdor both know that the untrustworthy baron is up to something.  But with the land around them populated by vengeful Apaches and murderous scabbies, they know that they have no choice but to wait on in Towse for the much needed supplies to arrive.

A choice that none of the Trader’s experienced crew can say that they are altogether happy with…

DLS Review:
Okay, so this eleventh instalment into the epic ‘Deathlands’ series is quite a different one.  The tale initially sets out much like any other ‘Deathlands’ story, with Cawdor and his companions waking up following on from another harsh Mat-Trans jump.  Indeed, the tale actually begins with another one of those (often quite irritating) lucid dream sequences that the jumps seem to induce.  This time the dream-cum-nightmare is from behind the eyes of the new recruit – Mildred Wyeth.  However, after less than fifty pages into the novel, Ryan’s slipped into a coma and the vast majority of the tale is then given over to Cawdor’s feverish mind re-living the past.

Admittedly it’s a pretty feeble excuse to further explore Cawdor’s past, from back in the days when he and J.B. Dix travelled with the Trader and his crew.  Bookended by this coma-induced dream premise, as soon as the plot is set for the tale to revert back these ten years, author Lawrence James dives straight in with a story that weaves itself quite nicely within the various stories that will eventually precede it.

Indeed, James doesn’t hang about in throwing in the odd nod towards characters and situations that we know would follow later on in Cawdor’s life.  A brief glimpse of Krysty Wroth, before their paths properly cross is a prime example.  And certainly one which, although of little impact here, adds an interesting new thread to the characters’ eventual involvement with each other.

A gunfight against a band of mutie scabbies early on in the story injects a good dose of violence and action to suitably get the ‘Deathlands’ juices flowing.  From here it’s into another potentially hostile ville, where yet again, Cawdor et al would be absolute fools to trust their hosts.

Expect the usual treacherous plot slowly simmering behind a painfully weak façade, all whilst Cawdor and the Trader’s crew try to go about their business.  And then along comes the baron’s glamorous wife, Sharona Carson.  Already by this stage Ryan’s been made to look like a man who gets all the women (remember, Krysty’s not on the scene at this stage).  Cawdor’s already partaken in a rampant threesome with a couple of fellow crew mates, Hunaker and July, and now the model-esque Sharona Carson is all over the irresistible one-eyed-stud.

A bit of mildly-touched-upon sex later and it’s back to the nitty-gritty of the baron’s devious ploy.  To be honest, there’s not a great amount of action or violence in the book thus far.  The local Apache’s give Cawdor and his pals a spot of bother.  There’s a bit more sex and quick-witted fighting at gunpoint.  But the real slaughter (quite unsurprisingly) comes later on.  And when it comes, it comes in the bucket loads.

With the snippet of Cawdor’s past now over, the novel once again reverts to the here-and-now, with Cawdor waking from his coma, with just vague memories of the past-revisiting dream remaining.  An intense final fifty-or-so-pages of “get the hell out of here” action concludes what has proven to be quite a different ‘Deathlands’ novel.  And in it, Lawrence James has really gone to town with injecting some surprising new angles for the broader ‘Deathlands’ storyline to have some fun with in later books.

An absolute must read for the continuation of the series and an important addition to the overall plot as well as the characters’ histories.  And it’s a darn enjoyable read to boot!

The novel runs for a total of 349 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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