Genre: Dark Military Fantasy
Publisher: Tor (May 10, 2016)
Length: 96 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
Never having had the pleasure to read Tim Lebbon’s Assassin series, I did not know what to expect of this standalone tale set in that universe. What I discovered was a blood and guts, realistic yet mythical tale centered around the horrors of the fall of Singapore during World War II, but with the focus being on the eternal struggle between a demon called Temple and his pursuer named Gabriel.
The narrative begins by following along behind the retreating forces of Her Majesty’s army, as they fight a desperate rearguard action against the attacking Japanese. The gruesome horrors of war are shown in their gory details; the savagery which armed conflict brings out in people exposed for the world to see; and the inhuman treatment of the wounded and captured British soldiers not overlooked. All of it tempered by our simple soldier having been told by a dying comrade that there is a secret hidden in the jungle, buried with a dead friend; a secret which is so horrible, so powerful it might keep him alive or get him killed!
Running parallel to the main story is one featuring Gabriel. During the Dark Ages, he was a simple man with a beloved family, then an inhuman creature named Temple slaughtered them, leaving him with horrible wounds which will not heal. Thereafter, a man with “snake eyes” charged Gabriel with hunting down and killing the demon. And for a thousand years, Gabriel has kept up his pursuit of the elusive creature, finding he is now immortal by some gift or curse of the snake eyed man, and he can have no peace, no release until Temple is destroyed.
Gabriel’s eternal hunt takes him all around the world until it finally leads him to Singapore, where he senses Temple’s presence. His unerring intuition that the creature is there to kill someone; a person who has knowledge which might aid Gabriel in destroying his nemesis. This leads our hunter to the deplorable prison where British soldiers are left to starve and rot of putrid wounds; there he discovers a soldier who tells him about the secret hidden in the jungle, and with Temple in pursuit, the race is on to find the shallow grave where Gabriel’s quest might finally end!
Not having any preconceived expectations for this novella, I have to admit struggling at the beginning to grasp who everyone was and what their role was. The narrator shifts between our desperate British soldier and the immortal hunter Gabriel probably added to that confusing, as I was jerked from two very different voices with completely different stories. I can understand why Mr. Lebbon used these sudden point-of-view changes (They allowed him to introduce each main character, ask each important questions which added tension, and switch locations instantly.), but they were jarring (especially at the beginning) and really tired me out. But after a while, I became use to this style and just went with the flow, allowing Mr. Lebbon to take me where he would.
What I then discovered and enjoyed was a World War II story with serious atmosphere and an ominous undertone. War is Hell, and Mr. Lebbon certainly conveys it as such to the very end. But what drives this narrative forward is the growing sense of an epic clash between Gabriel and Temple and the need to know what secret was buried in the jungle with that slain soldier. And when those two things happen at the end, it is perfectly executed, delivering a “What the Fuck!” moment, where you want to tweet Mr. Lebbon and demand to know the rest immediately!
So if you enjoy moody war stories with a dark fantasy undertone, this is a novella for you. Go pick it up immediately, but please resist the urge to look at the ending, because that is cheating and will ruin the fun.
Tor Books provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.