Jan Stacy's (house name Craig Sargent) 'The Last Ranger' series was nearly finished by September of 1988. The ten-book series reached it's conclusion with the swansong “Is This the End?” in January, 1989. Stacy would later pass away the same year from the AIDS virus, thus being able to conclude this series with definitive closure (everyone dead?) before his death. It's hard to fathom how far 'The Last Ranger' would have ran in good health considering lack of creativity and the genre's gradual demise in the 90s. We'll never know, but based on this turd-cake...the end was certainly near.
“The Damned Disciples” is a rudimentary example of how limited this “post-nuke” sub-genre can be. We can debate for days on the merits of 'Survivalist', 'Doomsday Warrior' and 'Endworld', but at some point even the most faithful would agree it was a bit of drivel in the droves. This ninth installment of 'The Last Ranger' is like an unfunny “Seinfield” episode – its literally about nothing, yet can't scrape together anything resembling entertainment. It's a slow burn with a lifeless character placed in illogical situations. Yet, I should sympathize with the series' mythology – it's the end of the world and anything goes...including a plot.
The book's opening suggests there's robed monks conducting moonlit, midnight pagan rituals in Colorado. A young woman is pushed into an occupied casket and the lid slams. Fast forward to our ranger Martin Stone tucked away in his mountain fortress performing leg surgery on himself. He receives a transmission that someone has April (someone always has April) and they are practicing devious desires. Stone, with no direction and a broken leg, drives his hog to some vile village named La Junta.
Stone finds that La Junta residents have been forced into something called Cult of the Perfect Aura by the great leader Guru Yasgar and the Transformer. It turns out Guru is providing all of his minions a special elixir called Golden Nectar. It's like 'Doc Savage' meets The Branch Davidians meets those Scientology quacks. There's some elephants thrown in, a labor camp and absolutely zero interest for anyone involved – it's what I refer to as the Men's Warehouse for Pathetic Plots. Somewhere, in the dull simplicity, Stone becomes drugged and forced to stir the Golden Nectar for weeks. April is here as the drugged, whipping wench/foreman, along with man's best enemy, a drugged, Stone-hating Excalibur (the series mascot and second protagonist behind Stone). There's a surprise cameo of a prior villain...but you have to torture yourself to find who.
I'd speculate that this book is a subtext of the author's own struggles near the end. It would be fair to think of the Golden Nectar, Stone's drug dependence and constant stirring as perhaps symbolic of Stacy's prescription torment, the endless cycle of day in and day out drug dependence. Considering timing of the release, his death from AIDS and the series' last book asking “Is This the End?”, it wouldn't be a far-reaching theory. Regardless of what inspired the material, it's simply a dull read that offers very little character development (I suppose what's the point), new ideas or any momentous change in series or character. Pass...for God's sake pass.
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