Sunday, 31 July 2011

Book Review: El Sombra by Al Ewing


El Sombra is set in the same alternate steampunk world as Jonathan Green’s Ulysses Quicksilver books, however, it has a very different feel to it. Using a movie analogy, if Green’s books share something in common with Hammer Horror gothic style movies, then Al Ewing’s entry into the Pax Britannia series feels more like a Quentin Tarantino film. El Sombra is hard, brutal, dirty and often downright mean!

Set in a small Mexican village that is overrun by a Nazi invasion force. The story revolves around the psychological experiment that the Nazis are conducting in the town, which has been turned into a labour camp, and the endeavours of a lone freedom fighter who singlehandedly stands up against them.

The story reads like a Zorro adventure, with the lone vigilante, El Sombre, going up against the all powerful overlords. Initially with minor encounters with the odd guard here and there, but very soon escalating to an all out (one man) war with all of the German forces in the area.

It goes through the standard ups and downs that are typically found in this type of story. Initial victories, and then, inevitably, El Sombre is captured and tortured. The torture sequences that are scattered throughout the book verge on torture porn, being exceedingly explicit and also fairly sanguine!  El Sombre’s escape from captivity and subsequent battles are handled quite stylishly, although his near superhuman acrobatics are sometimes a little hard to believe.

Ewing’s writing style generally carries the story along at a nice fast pace, and doesn’t really drag at any point. However, he does have a habit of giving each Nazi encountered by El Sombre a deep and often twisted back story, that to be honest is near to pointless. Some of these pieces stretch on for a page or two and you know that at the end El Sombre is going to despatch them without batting an eyelid. Although some of these back stories are quite entertaining, they are far too regular and go on far too long, especially when they occur right in the middle of a fight scene!

So, generally another good read. El Sombre is very different in style to Ewing’s running mate in the Pax Britannia series, which may catch some readers off guard, however, on it’s own merits an interesting steampunk novel, with some large Weird War Two input as well. Certainly worth a read.

As has become familiar with the Pax Britannia books, the book doesn’t finish at the end of Ewing’s novel. Tucked in after the novel is another 50 page Ulysses Quicksilver novelette from Jonathan Green, Fruiting Bodies. This is another excellent read, with Ulysses taking on a strange case in the dark and twisted streets of Green’s steampunk London. This time encountering a series of bodies that have been infected by a virulent and very deadly fungus. The plot soon thickens and builds to the inevitably heart stopping finale!   There are overtones of Invasion of the Body Snatchers about it, but with a very steampunk vibe as well.

So, all in all, El Sombre is another excellent addition to the Pax Britannia series. The novel is certainly different in feel to Green’s books, but it is still an excellent read and I am looking forward to reading Al Ewing’s second book in the series, Gods of Manhattan. Look out for a review of that one in a few weeks time.

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