Lords of Terror, by Allan Cole and Nick Perumov.
Published by Zumaya Otherworlds, March 2006.
ISBN: 1554102855. 430 pages.
Review by Hobbit
You know the old saying, ‘Never judge a book by its cover?’
Sometimes this saying works for me. To be honest, more often than not, I find it correct – the worst examples of these are usually books from the small independent presses – books which are more energy and enthusiasm than talent.
However, every now and then, sometimes a book you start reading becomes better than you expect. A book which, despite your expectations, goes against the norm.
Such is the book Lords of Terror, written by Allan Cole and Nick Perumov.
One of those names should sound a little familiar to you – if you’ve read any of the STEN SF novels by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole, then you may be impressed to know that this is THAT Allan Cole.
However, this is a new venture – a collaboration between Allan and newcomer Nick Perumov, a Russian from Saint Petersburg, (now North Carolina) voted Best European author at EuroCon in 2004. In other words, in the spirit of detente, this is a book where East meets West.
The story starts in the 30th century. The Cold War of the 1950’s between Russia and the USA was restarted following the joint assassination of George Bush and Vladimir Putin at the 2004 Olympics, and has therefore been deepening for about a century.
Moreover the world is now run by the use of demons, fiends, devils and sprites – gremlins who now run everyday tasks such as lighting, heating, computers and transport. Indeed, the Navigation Spirits, Control Brownies, Engine Devils and Supply Goblins pretty much run everything and are taken for granted by humans (or ‘softskins’).
Spirits and the mundane are ingeniously combined. Weapons, for example, can not only contain explosive but also DeathSprites, so that if the explosion doesn’t kill you, then the DeathSprites take your soul away to the NetherWorld.
At the same time, the deepening of the Cold War has both expanded into space and calcified ideologically. Strict lines between the US (‘Amer’s) and the Russians (‘Rooskies’) are maintained, though there is a relatively consistent state of peace.
Behind the lines, the situations are monitored and perhaps manipulated by secret societies. On the Russian side, The Order of the Dragon – whose Russian soldiers, the Brown Bears, deal with issues without complaint or question, working on behalf of this secret cabal in keeping the fragile peace/stalemate. On the US side there is the Odysseus Corps, also counteracting against the Order of the Dragon. The United Worlds Police are a form of galactic United Nations, who try and act as an independent between the two factions.
The story becomes complicated when a space cruiseliner, filled with honeymooning (and mainly American) couples is destroyed by the Russian military on the edge of the Frontier Zone, where their monitors registered it as a military vessel.
Both sides see the incident as a means of igniting war. The surviving Engine Driver from the cruiseliner, called Old Scratch, cannot explain why it was seen as anything other as a peaceful vessel. Consequently, both sides send in two of their best operatives, Davyd Kells and Vlad Projogin (hunky, presumably handsome, gladiatorial assassins) to investigate. Tanya Lawson (attractive, blonde, female) is sent in as a Master Investigator for the United Worlds Police (UWP) to try and independently assess the situation.
Also in the mix are the Master Wizards of Special Services, whose job is to maintain the roles between softskins and The Fiendish Worlds. Their leader, Daniel Carvaserin, and his brother Brand, also want to get to the bottom of the matter. For there are signs that wider issues and other powerful forces are at work, and the mysterious Council of Eight.
So what does this collaboration mean? It is interesting to see how US and Russian viewpoints mix in this novel. The two writers do something you hope to see when writers collaborate, in that the finished story is more than something that could’ve been created singly. It is an interesting attempt to mix two ideological views as well as elements of science fiction and fantasy.
With that in mind, there are parts of the book that worked really well for me and other parts less so. The backstory about using sprite power and how life can be run by gremlins was amusing – I now look at my computer in a different light! – so too, the other world where the demons live, which seems to sound rather like Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon or Mos Eisley Cantina. The character of Old Scratchy is well done, even when he is prone to quoting Rudyard Kipling. The dissent between the two opposing views was quite prescient if you look at the contemporary events of today, though I did find it a little difficult to believe that a war going on for a thousand years or so could be stopped as quickly as this one.
On the negative side, the romance that occurs between some of the characters was a little strained for me, though I guess in situations where you know another person’ thoughts relationships are different. The ten-year-old survivor of the cruiser disaster, Billy Ivanov, is both a wide-eyed innocent and far too knowing for a child of ten for my liking.
Parts of the plot were a little overused. I did get a little weary about how many times I was told that Tanya was attractive (yet strangely aloof). Other parts and characters were strangely less used than expected – more on the technical wizards would have been interesting, as the book stands they are used briefly then pretty much discarded for the rest of the book.
It is not a book that causes you to think too deeply, it is not a book that questions intently the morality of warfare, religion or the people acting on a justified cause, though these are touched on; but it was entertaining, engaging and a good page-turner.
My immediate thought on finishing the book was that the book deserved a wider audience. Though there are controversies – any book which has mention of political assassination, religious uprising and differences in political and religious ideologies these days is bound to not sit well with some readers – I still felt that it was an entertaining and worthwhile read, and though with weaknesses better than many out there, published by bigger publishers.
For those readers who enjoy stories of military action, space warfare, technothrillers, secret societies and political machinations with a slice of magic realism thrown in, then this might be one for you. Though perhaps not groundbreaking in terms of style or depth, the collaboration is intriguing, and therefore deserves to be read by a more extensive audience.
With that in mind, recommended.
Hobbit, March 2006