Home > Book Review > Book Review- “Ghostwalkers” by Jonathan Maberry

Book Review- “Ghostwalkers” by Jonathan Maberry

5152t92PW7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_In the ‘90s I became a pretty big fan of the Weird Western genre thanks to the Jonah Hex comic books that writer Joe R Lansdale and artist Tim Truman did for DC Comics Vertigo imprint and some of the short stories I read by one of my favorite pulp writers, Robert E Howard (creator of Conan), that mixed elements of the Western with horror and darker fantasy. The Weird Western was just a fun combination. It was like the literary equivalent of Psychobilly; a musical genre that melds punk and rockabilly and often featured horror imagery and lyrics.

So it’s no surprise that the cover to Shane Lacey Hensley’s “Deadlands” roleplaying game caught my eye in 2006 when I was browsing through a book store.  The cover of an undead gunslinger by Gerald Brom and the tag line of “The Weird West Roleplaying Game” just spoke to me and I quickly bought the book. I also picked up pretty much all the source books in the line and it’s two spinoff lines “Deadlands: Hell on Earth,” and “Deadlands: Lost Colony.”

What made “Deadlands so intriguing were its fun rules and great character design mechanics, but also the fantastic world that Hensley and his later collaborators built. Essentially “Deadlands” is a cleverly conceived cocktail of the alternate history, steam punk, horror, and fantasy. Everything melds together to form an insanely cool world, and the way that world blends actual real world history with the genre elements is fascinating.

In the world of “Deadlands” American history was changed forever by two major events. The first was a massive supernaturally triggered earthquake that dropped much of California into the ocean and transformed the area into a network of cliffs, canyons, and waterways dubbed “The Great Maze.” That earthquake also lead to the discovery of “Ghost Rock” a new mineral that acts super fuel to a whole host of steam punk style devices. The other major event was that the American Civil War never ended because at the Battle of Gettysburg the soldiers that died got back up . . . and they were hungry. A consequence of the war never ending is that Sioux were able to build their own nation within the United States borders.

So in “Deadlands” undead gunslingers haunt foreboding trails, murderous mad 250px-JonathanMaberryscientist construct clockwork doomsday devices, and magic is a very real and potent weapon. It’s a very fruitful and fun world to play in.

Even though I don’t play the Deadlands RPG anymore (One of the downsides to becoming an adult is it because increasingly hard to find people to commit time to RPGs) I still love the setting and I was very excited that the creators were going to let some authors play in their world in a series of official novelizations. Even more exciting was the fact that one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Maberry would be first up.

If you’re a fan of Maberry’s work, especially his Joe Ledger series, you know he’s a master at genre melding particularly when it comes to blending action and horror. So the world of “Deadlands” is a good place for Maberry to cut loose and have some fun, and that’s just what he does with his novel “Ghostwalkers.”

Much of the action in “Ghostwalkers” plays out as a buddy action tale between two fun and different Western heroes. The first hero we meet is very much your classic western protagonist; a travelling gunslinger with a mysterious past named Grey Torrance. When we first meet Grey he comes to aid of, or at least attempts to come to the aid of, Thomas Looks Away a different type of Western hero. That’s because Looks Away is a member of the Sioux Nation who fled America for Europe as part of a traveling Wild West show where he acquired an education and contacts in the esoteric and dangerous world of Ghost Rock powered sciences.

Looks Away is fleeing the agents of a powerful businessman and scientist who is also a master of necromancy and needs protection on his return trip to the Great Maze town of Paradise Falls. So Looks Away hires Grey and they head out to the Maze together. As they travel Grey becomes more and more acquainted with the weirder aspects of the Deadlands world and bonds of friendship and trust between him and Looks Away are formed. They’re the classic mismatched buddy pair.

“Ghostwalkers” really picks up when Grey and Looks Away reach the Great Maze because Maberry has a real feel for the place and expertly brings it to life via his prose. He depicts it as almost a dusty combination of nineteenth century America and the world of Mordor from “Lord of the Rings.” It’s a treacherous world of canyons and cliffs where hellish and ancient monsters that had been locked away in the Earth can attack at a moment’s notice.

Grey and Looks Away arrive in Paradise Falls soon after reaching the Maze and that’s when the pacing, action, and fun in “Ghostwalkers” becomes fast and furious. More supporting characters are introduced but we also get harrowing action sequences with zombies, demon possessed undead, undead dinosaurs, giant worms, and all manner of crazy technology. It all climaxes with an epic and full out battle for Paradise Falls where a ragtag band of townsfolk and their Ghost Rock weapons face off against an army of the dead.

So if you want a rocket powered pulp western style thrill ride featuring great characters, weird menaces, and Maberry’s trademark awesome action scenes pick up “Ghostwalkers.” You’ll be glad you did. Maberry clearly had a hell of a time running wild in the weird and wonderful world of “Deadlands” and so will you.

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