First published back in June of 1993, the eighteenth instalment into the epic Deathlands series, entitled ‘Shockscape, was written by the series’ original author and creator, Laurence James, under the usual house name of James Axler.

DLS Synopsis:
Emerging after another Mat-Trans jump, Ryan Cawdor together with his eleven-year-old son, Dean Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, J.B. Dix, Doc Tanner, Mildred Wyeth and their new companion nineteen-year-old Michael Brother, feel a drop in temperature as soon as they come to in their new surroundings.

Moving into the main control area of the redoubt, Dean Cawdor is given a harsh reminder of the dangers lurking around every corner in the Deathlands when a fifteen inch long albino worm starts burrowing into his groin area whilst the young boy is relieving himself.

After seeing to the vile mutie worm, the band exit the redoubt which they discover is situated on the flank of a vast mountain.  Using his microsextant and encyclopaedic memory to work out their rough location, J.B. Dix confirms that they have emerged along the Colorado Rockies.

Trekking across the snow-covered landscape, it’s not long before Cawdor et al come across a trio of hunters.  Conversation quickly turns to the baron whose land it is that they are hunting on.  Not wanting to become involved in anything that might put them in ill favour with the baron, the band slope off in the early morning, only to run in to the giant mutie Grizzly bear, dubbed Big Bob, which the hunters had been hunting.

However, in protecting themselves from the attacking mutie bear, Cawdor and his companions find themselves in a compromising position when a troop of the baron’s sec men arrive.  Cawdor’s group are taken to the nearby ville of Vista to await the baron’s response.

However, they find Baron Alfred Nelson, owner of the ville of Vista, to be a man completely grief-ridden following the murder of his eleven-year-old son, Zebe, together with the loss of his adulterous wife.  Whilst their lives hang in the balance of the baron’s will, they are told how Nelson defeated and killed the man that previously ruled Vista.  However, the dead baron’s son, Wizard Sidler, still lives and now resides in the neighbouring ville, Yuma.

Baron Nelson knows that it was a gang of six men from Yuma who were acting under the orders of Wizard Sidler who chilled his son Zebe.  Close to five months have passed since his son’s death.  But until now Nelson hasn’t seen a way that he could execute his vengeance on those that chilled his son.  Yuma has double the men of Vista.  A hole-in-the-wall sort of den for thieves and killers.

But with the arrival of Cawdor and his companions, an idea formulates in the baron’s mind.  Ryan is told he will have ten days in which he must take his men to Yuma and bring back Wizard Sidler and those who killed his son.  Until then he will hold the women and Dean.  If Ryan and his companions don’t come back with prisoners, the baron will take the women to wife and adopt Dean as his own son.

With little choice, Ryan Cawdor accepts the baron’s demands, and together with Doc Tanner, Michael Brother and J.B. Dix, they head off to Yuma where they will have to face the numerous thieves and scum of the ville and somehow bring back the Baron Wizard Sidler and a number of his deadliest hired raiders.  It’s a task that Ryan Cawdor knows will likely be near impossible to achieve.  What he knows he has no other options…

DLS Review:
Following on from the series’ previous instalment - ‘Deathlands 17 – Fury’s Pilgrims’ (1993) - Abe (the former gunner for the Trader) has once again left the small group of companions, and instead the new character of Michael Brother has filled his space.  And for as always, having seven companions seems to fit just right.  It’s a number that’s worked well for the series in the past.  And no doubt it’ll continue to do so in the preceding instalments.

The story kick-starts with a classic Deathlands-style ‘straight-into-the-madness’ first few chapters, with Dean Cawdor finding himself in a particularly grim predicament with a fifteen-inch-long mutie worm wrapped around his crouch.  It’s your usual ‘start-the-novel-by-whetting-the-readers-appetite’ approach, before the tale moves on to establishing the main plot.  It’s formulaic, but like with maintaining a consistency to the dynamics of Cawdor’s group, it works well with this type of series.

Similarly, along the way to the first ville, the attack and fight with the mutie Grizzly Bear is pure Deathlands stuff.  Author Laurence James knows how to deliver action-rich scenes that get the adrenaline pumping at a mile-a-minute.  And this is a perfect example of how it’s done.

From here the story drops down a gear (as far as the action is concerned) to instead focus on establishing the tale’s main plot.  We have the introduction to a typically exaggerated baron who’s pretty much your run-of-the-mill Deathlands type.  Within a matter of a couple of short chapters, the main plot is set and we’re off to a whole new ville, this one packed with thieves and villains.

However, what you’re probably not expecting is the delightfully contrived way in which Cawdor and his companions plan to take Baron Sidler and his hired raiders out of Yuma.  It’s a gloriously elaborate plan, possibly even verging on slapstick at times.  But at the end of the day, it’s all about the entertainment value – and this one delivers the goods in abundance.

Interestingly, a standalone chapter involving Abe and his plans to track down the source of the ceaseless rumours surrounding the Trader, finds itself shoehorned into the middle of the story.  It’s no doubt there in order to keep that particular thread alive for a future storyline, however, as a single standalone chapter stuck into the middle of this tale, it nevertheless feels somewhat awkward and slightly out of place.

However, all in all, what you get with this eighteenth instalment is another solid addition to the whole epic saga.  It’s pretty much a typical storyline for a Deathlands tale.  You’ve got the introduction of some wonderfully over-the-top characters, along with some excellent subplots and gritty double-crossing.  In fact, the whole novel feels so wonderfully 80’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi that you can’t help but love it.  Admittedly there’s not a huge amount of violence or bloodshed in this particular instalment.  That’s not to say there isn’t any.  But compared with some of the previous offerings, ‘Shockscape’ is a tad thinner on the ground as far as the hard-hitting action goes.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty damn fine addition to the series.

The novel runs for a total of 349 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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