Saturday, September 5, 2015

Iron and Bronze (Win Scott Eckert and Christopher Paul Carey, 2009)

Once I start buying books again (in a couple months; I just bought 125 used Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks as a gift to myself upon receiving my first paycheck at the new job, plus I still have a number of books from Pulpfest to read, so I should be good for a while), I really need to start collecting the Tales of the Shadowmen anthology series in earnest.  I picked up the first one a couple years back, and despite my complete and total ignorance of French pulp, found it a fairly fun read, but I never really continued on with the series.

Today's story first appeared in the fifth volume, The Vampires of Paris.  If the names Christopher Paul Carey and Win Scott Eckert sound familiar, they should - I spent a good amount of time talking to both men at Pulpfest, with Chris having been the author of Exiles of Kho, and both involved heavily in maintaining and expanding the legacy of Philip Jose Farmer and the Wold Newton Universe.

This story follows Hareton Ironcastle (of Ironcastle fame) deep into the Sahara in search of the son of a good friend; a detour along the way puts him in the possession of a mysterious axe of meteoric iron known as the "Reaver of Worlds" and the company of N'desi, a native warrior armed with a curious iron broadsword.  Their quest soon lands them in a lost city deep in the Hoggar mountains, the last remnant of mythical Atlantis, once ruled by the savage and lusty queen Antinea.

Antinea is now a slave in her own palace - having been usurped by a skull-faced American gangster, Harry Killer, and his private army of thuggish ape-men.  He wants the secret of immortality, long held by Antinea, and is ready to torture and maim the secret out of her.  Fortunately for her, Ironcastle is willing to put his distaste for her sexual proclivities aside in the interest of the greater good - and that son of a good friend he was looking for? He just so happens to be Doc Ardan, aka Doc Savage...

Chris and Win have really outdone themselves here.  It's challenging enough to write a cross over story featuring two preexisting characters and capture both their voices and present it well; Win and Chris have given us four preexisting characters - Ironcastle, Ardan/Savage, Antinea, and Harry Killer, aka Zanigew (as per the research of Rick Lai, readable here) and balanced their roles and presences perfectly, not allowing any one character to dominate the stage, so to speak.  This is rather a lot like juggling four running chainsaws and not losing any fingers, and speaks volumes to both Chris and Win's affection for the characters and combined pool of literary talent.

Not only are the characters fleshed out in enough detail that I didn't feel lost reading this story without having read all the novels that these characters originated in, but that fleshing out was also handled with a light enough touch that I never felt like I was getting bogged down in back-story.

I've only read a smattering of Doc Savage, and nothing of Doc Ardan - and I'm utterly unfamiliar with either Antinea or Harry Killer, so really Hareton Ironcastle was the character here I was the most intimately familiar with - and I like his appearance here better than I did him in Ironcastle.  He's a much less...I guess the word I want to use here is anemic, character in the hands of Chris and Win.  He was active and engaged in the events of the story, never once appearing as just an observer.

The story manages to combine a lot into just a few short pages, with a lot of great "downtime" interaction between characters, a building mystery, two-fisted (and axe-swinging) violence and a denouement that offers further mystery and the promise of continued adventures.

All in all, I strongly recommend this one, even if you've got no familiarity with the characters going in - you don't need it.  It's a ripping good tale of adventure in a lost civilization, there's ape-men, supervillains, legendary artifacts, immortal queens, plant monsters and square-jawed heroes ready to stand up and fight the good fight at the drop of a hat.  You can get it for your Kindle here.

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