First published back in January of 1992, the fourteenth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Dark Carnival’, was written by the series’ first author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
After breaking out of the Scalies subterranean headquarters, Ryan Cawdor together with his newly-acquainted ten-year-old son, Dean Cawdor, head back to the Recce Wag where they rendezvous with the others at the shingle beach of the Hudson River near the ravaged ville of Newyork.

Taking to the Husdon River, it’s a cramped and treacherous journey on towards the Harlem River which eventually brings them within spitting distance of the hidden redoubt they originally arrived at.  Working their way down the 300ft elevator shaft with bloodthirsty gang members hot on their heels, Cawdor’s band of post-holocaust survivors arrive at the Mat-Trans unit ready for their next seemingly-random jump.

And for young Dean Cawdor’s first jump, it’s far from an easy one.  Doc Tanner suffers the worst from the after effects of the jump.  And upon arriving in their new destination, they take their time recovering whilst helping themselves to new sets of clothes and blasters from the surprisingly well-equipped and still functioning redoubt.

Exiting the redoubt, Cawdor et al walk out into the sweltering hot overgrown remains of what had once been a Theme Park in Florida.  After fighting off a giant mutie boa constrictor, Ryan Cawdor, Dean Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, J.B. Dix, Doc Tanner and Mildred Wyeth arrive at the Ville of Greenglades, where they are escorted to Baron Boss Larry Zapp by the Ville’s Sec-Boss.

The years haven’t been good to Zapp since his and Cawdor’s previous encounter when Cawdor left the greedy baron for dead.  Now a bloated pig of a man, Baron Boss Larry spends his days living in excess and out of his face on dreem.  A drug that enhances the pleasure senses to the nth degree.  An additive powedery narcotic provided by the man who really runs the Ville – Adam Traven.

And as Cawdor’s gang are soon to learn, Traven is the real puppetmaster in Greenglades.  With his posse of bloodthirsty deviants, Traven is the power that controls the Ville – with Larry pathetically cowering under his every word.

But Traven has his eye on more than just Greenglades. Cawdor’s ten-year-old son has caught his lustful attention.  And his posse’s bloodthirsty butchery of the local residents has left an unpleasant taste in Cawdor’s mouth.  With his loyal companions by his side – Cawdor realises time has quickly run out for them, and it’s now time to face up to the corruption within Greenglades, before it swallows them up too…

DLS Review:
This is what it’s all about.  Pure and utter Deathlands entertainment.  ‘Dark Carnival’ is pretty much a textbook Deathlands novel – cramming in giant mutie beasties with corrupt barons and no-good-dirty villains.  And Adam Traven, Along with his posse of sexual-delinquents, are some truly nasty pieces of work.

The novel kicks off with a good couple of chapters of Scalie action, not to mention a giant mutie alligator attack, and from here on the pace hardly ever lets up.  That is, other than the inclusion of some more character-by-character post-Mat-Trans-jump dream sequences that are just more annoying than anything else.  Luckily these plot-slowing little sequences are soon out of the way and we’re left to see what Florida has in store for Cawdor and his gang.

With neutron bombs having left the vast majority of the Greenglades Theme Park still standing, the arrival of Cawdor and his companions into the Ville starts off with some theme park tomfoolery, which sets the whole backdrop theme for the tale in a quirky and almost surreal fun park manner.

Then, with the introduction of Adam Traven, the bubbling threat within the Ville quickly establishes itself.  Traven instantly exhibits his ultimate authority in Greenglades, with his young posse clearly under his corrupt spell.  Indeed, the character of Adam Traven was very possibly modelled on that of Charles Manson – with their constant indulgence in drugs, sex and sadistic butchery fuelling their deeply-disturbed lives.

It has to be said that author Laurence James really has gotten into a good flow now with his Deathlands novels.  The speed at which the tale twists and turns and throws in new characters and all its Deathlands shenanigans, makes for one hell of a roller-coaster ride.   On top of all that, James throws in some pretty graphic scenes of torture and bloodthirsty violence to keep the gritty intensity of the tales going.  This really is pure post-apocalyptic pulp entertainment!

Furthermore, injected into the story is the excellent return of Jak Lauren as well as a handful of links with other characters from previous novels (I shan’t give too much away).  Along with this, Ryan Cawdor also picks up a new gun – a SSG-70 Steyr military sniping rifle that sees its fair share of action in this novel alone.

All in all ‘Dark Carnival’ is another cracking addition to the whole Deatlands saga – offering up plenty of violent thrills and spills along with throwing down some important twists and turns for the series as a whole.  This is certainly one not to miss.

The novel runs for a total of 348 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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