Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Armageddon Shadow (reviewed by Scary Minds)

Review “You’re going to hell, Henry.” - Baxter

Agent Baxter and his team from a secret Government organisation are tasked with apprehending and destroying an ancient evil know simply as Darkness. They almost achieve their target but are thwarted at the last moment by a gun wielding discipline of Darkness. The Evil naturally escapes and proceeds with a plan to infect the citizens of Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, with a virus via licking victim's eyeballs. Darkness believes he will be undefeatable with an army gradually growing in strength. Arrayed against Darkness are Agent Baxter and three ancient beings of light who emerge as things get desperate.

An attack on a secret Government research facility further complicates matters, as a chemical released by the attack spreads over Wellington bringing the dead back to life. Naturally the reanimate dead have a hunger, a hunger for living human flesh. Can Agent Baxter survive the undead long enough to defeat Darkness, or will New Zealand plunge into the Abyss?

You know what I find strange? That unknown Author you have been following and mentioning at dinner parties suddenly has three published novels behind their name and is well known in dark genre circles, thus lowering your innovative street cred as everyone has suddenly heard of them. While grooving to Lee Pletzers' latest, The Armageddon Shadow, I was interrupted on a train by another commuter asking if I had read the “awesomely good The Last Church”! Sigh, our Authors grow up so fast and are suddenly out in the big bad world! Which kind of just points out we're at the end of our “early works of Lee Pletzer”, when does an Author become an “established” author anyways?

To the novel at hand kids, The Armageddon Shadow is distinctly Pletzer, with an ancient event influencing current events to the detriment of all. In this case Darian, back in days of yore 27 B.C, lead a rebellion against his overlords after the murder of his wife and child. Naturally the rebellion failed with hundreds dead on both sides, and the overlords, three “Elders”, executing Darian in pretty dramatic fashion. Clearly none of the Elders had ever read an Eerie comic folks, they drowned Darian by burying him neck deep in the sand and letting the incoming tide do the work. Still seeking revenge for his family Darian called upon the help of god, got no answer, and then immediately had more success with the other side. Some time later Darian dragged himself out of Hell and into the modern world as the ancient evil Darkness. We also pretty quickly find out the Elders are beings of light, so yes the novel sets up a clash between the forces of good and the forces of darkness in time honoured dark genre fashion.
Of course the clash of light and dark is something of a trope and easily dismissed as yet another pulp novel, but Pletzer stirs in a couple more ingredients to present a hearty stew that isn't so easy to pass over. Agent Baxter and his colleagues present a far more modern adversary to Darkness, and while we may have some sympathy (more on this later) for the reincarnation of Darian in regards to the Elders, we certainly don't from the viewpoint of Baxter and his diminishing crew. Baxter is faced with ultimate evil and an attempt to kick start human evolution, if you want to call it that, but under the draconian hand of Darkness, which ironically mirrors exactly what Darian was fighting back in 27 BC. Ultimate power corrupts perhaps? It's an intriguing theme Author Pletzer is tracking down here. And just in case you are getting complacent over there, after the destruction of the Government research facility a purple mist is released which descends on Wellington reanimating the victims and combatants of the ultimate Good v Evil smack down as flesh craving zombies. So not only do you get a sort of Angels v Demons thing happening but you also get the added bonus of zombies, and wonderfully Pletzer gives his undead at least rudimentary thought processes. Try computing all that with a couple of minor characters who appear to be more than simply set pieces on Pletzer's literary chess board. It's an involving novel that will keep you entertained from first to last page.

Right from the first page the Author gets the pace moving at a hectic run and doesn't allow things to drop off as the tension escalates. Pletzer gives enough background to get you fully in the picture without overstaying his welcome or letting his pace dissipate at any stage. There's a number of mysteries to be solved and the Author deals out the details at a measured clip keeping the reader glued to the page. The novel is left open ended so thankfully we might just get a sequel in due course as the eternal battle, and that slight zombie issue, get resolved in a future book. For those wondering, no The Armageddon Shadow is pretty much an enclosed yarn, so no you aren't left with a cliff hanger waiting to be sorted.

A couple of slight issues I had with the novel, and by slight I mean nothing the constant reader should concern themselves with, but something us anally retentive reviewer types tend to notice. The novel needed another edit, there's some clangers in places, (just like in this review no doubt), highlighting that using MS Word spell check doesn't clean everything. And I must admit to being a tad concerned about some of the descriptive passages that seemed slightly stilted. To be honest I believe Lee Pletzer can write a whole lot better prose but maybe as a Writer he got caught up in his narrative that under normal circumstances, say if one Stephen King tackled it, would be of epic length, hence things are slightly on the rushed side of the editor.

Before wrapping things up I should mention Lee Pletzer pulls off one of the more difficult jobs in modern literature, having a myriad of seemingly unconnected characters who eventually have an impact on the central narrative path. It takes a good Writer to make this device work, and Pletzers hits it out of the ball park with relative ease. Nothing feels like simply a device to get the plot where it needs to head, and more importantly the Author has the ability to work a number of different story lines into the central story without dropping the beat. Pletzer actually makes the device work for him, as we learn how widespread the infection has become by his divergent characters hitting their own personal battles with Darkness.
Sorry one further point and we'll wrap. You don't have to be a Wellingtonian to get the novel locations, (I actually for no apparent reason thought up Dunedin locations instead), and no as opposed to a lot of Kiwi novels you don't need to interpret Aotearoa speech patterns.
Almost forgot, Pletzers gains some sympathy for his main antagonist, who is almost driven to the dark path by forces beyond his control, but at the same time has the reader hoping Baxter can sort things out. So guess we are talking a fallen character who deserved some sort of revenge.
So a couple of issues, and yes it did take me a few chapters to get my The Armageddon Shadow on for some reason, but coming out of the book I was crossing my fingers that a sequel might be forthcoming. Another ripping yarn from a master story teller, recommended to folk who like their dark genre on the pulp side of the book store.
The Armageddon Shadow is available from right here or for the computer minded an e-version is available from

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

  Some demon, some zombie, an evil plan that wasn't what we expected.

1 comment:

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