Harding presents the familiar premise of a nuked America. While he never really elaborates on how far into the future this is, one would assume around 50 to 70 years after the big one hits (at least one full life cycle). The country is separated into districts and rulers. From Ohio through Pennsylvania and Tennessee lie the Firelands, a ruined stretch that saw the coal fields ignite and burn. This is Hell. The Slaverstates consume Washington, DC and run northeast. The southwest is simply known as the Hotstates (the Mississippi river evaporated) and the pacific northwest is known as the Coldstates. Chicago remains a neutral area and an open city, thus our hero Bonner lives there with other loners.
Bonner gives us a brief rundown of what used to be the Outrider clan. After the bomb, groups of Outriders traveled through the country and provided supplies, support and law to the survivors. They were trusted and generally accepted by the remaining Americans. Somewhere along the way the Outriders stopped and unruly districts popped up. At the beginning of the series Bonner gets attacked by a baddie, a henchman sent by Bonner's enemy Leather, the sadistic ruler of the Slaverstates. The two have history together as Outriders but Leather took a left turn into barbarism. I assume a shortage on outpatient mental health care? He is holding captive Bonner's lover Dara and Bonner wants her back.
Bonner quickly kills off the hitman and heads to a garage where a super Dodge buggy awaits. It has a .50 caliber gun mounted on it's rollbar, a weapon that Bonner quickly uses to annihilate a small squadron of armed goons right outside of Chicago. Our hero teams up with two guys, Starling (expert archer) and Cooker (expert fuel man) and journeys into the madness to kill Leather in Washington DC. After some shootouts early on the trio of badasses hit New York first to bail out an old friend of Bonner's. This portion of the book reminds me of John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York'. There is a huge prison there that is surrounded and manned by some wild crazies. The two free the coveted Harvey from his cell and pick up two behemoth twins aptly titled the Mean Brothers. This group then heads into Washington DC where they meet up with The Sisters, a commando force of women decked out in fine fashion and combat boots.
With this many heroes and firepower the ultimate destination is Leather's fortress. Bonner uses too much bravado and becomes a full-fledged member of the Morons of Pulp Fiction. He gets captured and forced to watch his lover Dara get raped and beaten to death. Let me get you a Shasta to go with that. Thankfully Bonner's crew blows up a nearby building so Leather orders the death blows on Dara instead of the ill-advised gang rape. She still dies. There went a potential backstory that could run for years of publishing checks. Bonner escapes, hacks off Leather's hands before our arch enemy escapes for the next book. A hired killer named Beck sets out to kill off Bonner but has a change of heart at the end. Cue the credits kids as Leather seeks out a wench that will hold his junk to pee.
This one is absolutely loaded with action, over the top characters and a furious pace from start to finish. I loved the book and huge props to Harding for including three outrageously bad-ass firearms for our heroes to utilize - Ruger Super Redhawk .44, Steyr Aug .556 and the Winchester tactical 12 gauge. Among Bonner's useful skills comes a ton of knife work. He is able to throw combat knives with extreme accuracy and that combined with Starling's ability with the bow and Cooker's flamethrower - well it's like a comic book team of destruction in one fell swoop. In true post-nuke fashion, the book embodies everything we know and love about 'Mad Max', 'Road Warrior' and 'The Warriors'.