Review: “Deadlands: Ghostwalkers” by Jonathan Maberry

Title: Ghostwalkers
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Series: Deadlands
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: TOR, 2015

Much to my chagrin, I’m not all that deeply embedded in the world of RPGs. The interest is there, but traditionally there’s been a shortage of people willing to follow me down the rabbit hole. I recently managed to con some of my family into trying the new Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight, but that’s a different story. Anyway, all that to say that I’d never even heard of Deadlands when I picked this up, but very much want to further explore this version of the Weird West.

The world was shattered in 1863 when a native shaman performed a ritual intended to banish the white man from the Americas. Instead, reality itself has unraveled. The dead walk the Earth, forcing the Civil War to end in an uneasy stalemate. In California, the land itself was ripped apart by a massive quake, leaving a broken labyrinth of chasms and canyons populated by mysteries and monsters. In the wake of the disaster, a new element is discovered: Ghost Rock, burning hotter than coal and with a host of strange properties that is driving a new era of scientific discovery. Ex-Union soldier Grey Torrance is a gun for hire haunted by the ghosts of those he’s failed to save, constantly moving in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the specters who would drag him down to Hell. Torrance would tell you he’s no hero, but a chance encounter with a native scientist sets the wheels in motion for a confrontation with a madman who would conquer the world with an army of the walking dead….

Based on a successful tabletop RPG, Deadlands: Ghostwalkers is pulp fiction at its best. The quick and the undead mix with everything from Lovecraftian gods to creatures from another age in a yarn that, while perhaps short on what some would call literary merit, is still a darn fun tale. Seriously, this book has it all. Zombies, dinosaurs, zombie dinosaurs, necromancy, a subterranean world right out of Jules Verne, steampunk weaponry, even a third-act cameo by Cthulhu. The characters aren’t always the most three-dimensional, but that’s to be expected from this genre. A couple incidents early in the book feel like irrelevant side adventures at first, but later are revealed to be essential plot elements. I’ve never played the game, but the book seemed a pretty good introduction to the world, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further.

CONTENT: Strong violence, occasionally gruesome. Occasional R-rated profanity, but mostly pretty PG-13. Mildly explicit sexual content. A lot of the elements of this world could potentially be considered occultic, from possession to necromancy.

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