EL SOMBRA

By Al Ewing

Reviewed by Rob Spalding

Opening with the words 'The man walked across the desert. And the desert destroyed the man.' is El Sombra, the second book in Abaddon's Pax Britannia line.

The plot could be summed up as an unhinged Zorro fights Nazis to reclaim his town, but that would do a disservice to the outlandish imagination contained within the covers.

The origin of El Sombra is neatly delivered in a prologue where a wedding is interrupted by the arrival of flying Nazis and our hero descends into madness in the desert.

We then skip ahead 9 years. The people of the town are as nothing to their Nazi masters, viewed as little more than clockwork people, there to do their job, but not to live.

The best defined of the villains is Alexis, son of the commander; his introduction is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, with all the references to male grooming products and the body in his bed. It is not long before our hero arrives to stop a public execution and things just start going badly for the Nazis from here on.

One nice and inventive trick is that every Nazi killed by the hero is given a back story, some lasting only a paragraph others getting a full history. Some we feel sorry for, others less so, but each becomes a real character before being unceremoniously slain by the laughing El Sombra. Only once does this not happen and there they are casually dismissed as chaff, not important enough to know beyond being in the way of El Sombra as he rages.

While there are no great surprises in how the plot progresses, this does not detract from the story in any way. The author bio describes it as his first penny dreadful and it reads as a great piece of pulp fiction.

The action is detailed and often entertainingly gory. There is a glee to be had at noting no two characters appear to die from the same wounds and guessing at just how El Sombra will dispatch the next. There are some great set pieces, the highlight the attack of the ten foot tall clockwork, steam powered Nazi death robot, known as Der Zinnsoldat, the Tin Soldier.

There are suitably ironic ends for several villains, my personal favourite being the demise of the chief torturer in a new and inventive way that should bring a smile to your lips.

Never letting the story get bogged down in talk, El Sombra still manages to create a wide number of notable and memorable characters. This is a book I devoured in just under 24 hours and would recommend to any fans of slightly deranged pulp fiction.

The ending leaves it open for a follow up, but with the news that the originator of the series, Jonathan Green, will be writing all the further adventures in this world, we are unlikely to see it. A shame in my opinion.

ADDENDUM

Included in the book is a short story by Jonathan Green (creator of the Pax Britannia series), featuring his dandy hero, Ulysses Quicksilver. Fruiting Bodies is set some months after the events in the first novel, Unnatural History, and has Ulysses investigating a strange death in the East End. A prostitute is found dead, her body covered with strange fungus. The investigation leads him to noted botany experts and he stumbles upon other deaths. The story is short, snappy and retains the fun of Unnatural History. Quicksilver is unable to stop charming any woman he comes across or upsetting Inspector Allardyce.

It's a good piece of pulp fiction and it's nice to see Abaddon putting a short story at the back rather than just the opening chapter of a novel. The final revelation caught me slightly, which is always a nice surprise. I am looking forward to the next book in the series. High standards have been set by all 3 stories so far; let's hope they keep it up.

El Sombra by Al Ewing. Paperback, 320 pp, £6.99. Published by Abaddon Books and available in all good bookshops, or online from Amazon.

Website: - www.abaddonbooks.com


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