Arrowland is a good read. Basically, it’s a Robin Hood adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world with super bad baddies and super good goodies who make amazing escapes from dire situations. I recommend it as an entertaining diversion.
The story opens with the world struggling to recover from an apocalyptic nightmare where ninety per cent of the population is dead from a blood-borne disease that kills everyone except those with blood type O. The hero, Robert, the Hooded Man, leads a group of Rangers, fighting lawlessness and banditry along with his wife, Mary, and a number of lieutenants. The Rangers only use bows and arrows – even though the bad guys use guns and tanks – but they are very well trained, expert at infiltration and camouflage and always doing the right thing so you just know they’ll win out in the end despite this handicap.
Meanwhile, the baddies are assembling. In Wales there is the Dragon, a man so fat he must be transported on wheels. He has accumulated a large cache of weapons – and the men to use them – in the Cardiff Millennium Stadium. He is driven by his father’s constant criticism and comparisons to an older and better brother who died before his time.
In Scotland there is the Widow, a cannibalistic woman who uses powerful magic drawn from the life force of the husbands she has eaten. She has all her weapons, ancient and modern, and her army, in Edinburgh Castle. She can predict the future, control people’s minds and incapacitate with strange potions and spells.
In Germany, Loewe is a conman who has managed to recreate the Nazis. He is using an old foe of Robert’s, Tanek, to supply German weapons to the Dragon and the Widow.
Mixed in with all of this is the Shadow, an Amerindian, with mystical powers. He is the wild card of the story with his own agenda which causes Robert endless grief by breaking the mystical link between Robert and the forest.
And so the scene is set for the adventures where Robert risks all. He and all his good guys are constantly in impossible situations which they must escape using luck, bravado, ingenuity and lots of muscles. But mostly luck.
This story is set in the same world as the Afterblight Chronicles: America (see my previous review) but the difference is exceptional. Whereas the stories in America were generally little more than a series of fighting scenes, Arrowland is well constructed, exciting and interesting, with well developed characters who show human weaknesses to complement their heroism.
All the characters have some depth to them. There is a weak attempt to show the reasons why the Dragon, the Widow and Loewe have become the baddies that they are, although considering just how evil they are, it doesn’t really bridge the gap between a normal person and a super baddie. Also, as always in these books, they seem to have accumulated large numbers of foot soldiers ready to die for an insane leader. Still, these foot soldiers are usually caught out by the highly trained and very capable Rangers and there are many times when the lieutenants show real concern as to what’s happening but only when it’s too late to run so they’re not just mindless cannon fodder running towards the carnage.
Arrowland also has a well developed back story showing how previous enmities have come about. A quick check of the back of the book shows these have been published in two previous books: Arrowhead and Broken Arrow.
As always for these adventure stories there are quite a few places where you must suspend belief for the hero has once again managed to escape an impossible situation by doubtful means despite wounds, etc. But that’s what these stories are all about and it makes them a fun read.
The fantasy element of the storyline is relatively well developed. It’s not central to the story and we aren’t transported to a magical land, but the Widow’s magic is credible in the context of the world and the spiritualism of the Amerindian against that of the English forest was nicely done.
One major concern I had was the quality of the printing. Towards the end of the book there are a number of typing errors, the worst being what appears to be a missing page.
As seems to be the case in nearly every book I review, good or bad, the plot is almost exclusively based on “Overcoming the Monster” (see The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker). I’m hoping that one day a book comes along that uses one of the alternative plots just for a bit of variety.
And now for the awards. I give this book the following positive awards, which the author and publishers will probably like. They are all out of five:
• Four World Trees for an interesting use of spirituality that complements the underlying story and also gives credibility to the characters.
• Three purring black cats on laps for super villains that don’t quite follow the usual cliches – although they are still quite insane.
I also give it the following awards which the authors and publishers may not appreciate quite so much.
• Five Harkonnen anti-gravity sleds for the Dragon who, unbelievably, must be transported on a trolley because he is so fat and yet has attracted an army who don’t simply kill him and take over his empire.
• Four fingers barely holding on to the edge of that mighty cliff for writing that goes just that little bit too far in creating the hero’s jeopardy before his amazing escape.
To summarise, this book is a good read with exciting situations, narrow escapes, evil baddies and heroic good guys. Its pace is excellent and the chapters leave you hanging and wondering what will come next. There are some nice touches of just-believable fantasy to make it more interesting. I recommend it as a good fun read.