Showing posts with label Wilderness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wilderness. Show all posts

Friday, June 15, 2018

Wilderness #06 - Black Powder Justice

“Black Powder Justice” is yet another excellent, suspenseful 'Wilderness' novel, the sixth book in the series by David Robbins (under the name David Thompson). 

Evil whites have shot our mountain man protagonist Nate in the head(!), left him for dead and kidnapped his wife. Their scheme is to deliver a load of rifles (and Nate’s wife) to hostile Ute Indians in exchange for a fortune in beaver pelts. Nate will suffer more misery than ever before on his way to the resolution of this novel. Did I mention he’s already been attacked by wolves before the plot gets underway? 

This book is gripping and tense, and it’s so successful in depicting Nate’s various perils and agonies that it’s not always a perfectly delightful read. The never-ending progression of misery is almost too much. The book skillfully portrays Nate’s heroic resolve and indefatigable perseverance in the face of it all. But if he’d suffered even one additional painful aggravation, it might have tipped the literary scale into self-parody. Mind you, that doesn’t happen. This is a riveting novel. But at this point I’m beginning to wonder if Nate wasn’t better off back at his bookkeeping gig in New York, where the biggest danger he faced was a reprimand for coming back late from lunch. 

A less-gifted author would have cranked out something lively but unbelievable, and therefore not very engaging. Robbins has a talent for making a wildly over-the-top adventure story seem perfectly reasonable if not downright factual, and for keeping the reader on the edge of his seat from the first chapter to the last. “Black Powder Justice” maintains this series’ stellar batting average.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Wilderness #05 - Tomahawk Revenge

The fifth book in the 'Wilderness' series, “TOMAHAWK REVENGE”, is another winner from author David Robbins (writing as David Thompson). 

The series is set in the late 1820s, and follows the adventures of Nate King, a nineteen-year-old New Yorker who follows an uncle to the remote Rocky Mountains and decides to stay. By this point in the saga, it’s time for Nate to learn how to make a living, and that means fur trapping. But that education is interrupted by a Blackfoot war party, and what happens next--- in fact, all the way to the end of the book--- is harrowing, savage and bloody.

As good as this series is, there might be a crack or two in its foundation now. After depicting a wide variety of dangers and adventures throughout the first four books, a touch of déjà vu is creeping in. There’s yet another grizzly bear attack, the third so far. (I’m tempted to claim that Nate King is attacked by grizzlies as often as Mack Bolan gets shot at, but that’d be a stretch.) And once again Nate faces hostile Indians. Boy oh boy, are these Indians hostile!

In “TOMAHAWK REVENGE”, Nate and his companions are not only attacked, but taken prisoner and subjected to various grueling tortures. It’s easily the most intense Indian action of the series so far, and I don’t know how Robbins will be able to top it (but I’m sure he’s up to the task). Imagine staggering naked through the woods, bleeding from an arrow wound, as shrieking, kill-crazy Indians bear down on you, advancing closer and closer. 

This novel isn’t necessarily fun, but it’s definitely powerful. The level of brutality and general misery here may be tough for some readers to take, and there’s also a bleakness that we hadn’t seen thus far. But don’t let that scare you off.

While most action/adventure series are about wish fulfillment (punishing the guilty, rescuing the vulnerable, accomplishing a vital mission or just getting rich), the Wilderness books are simply about the challenge of survival, the struggle to not get killed. They’re also a lot more compelling than the ordinary pulp action series. If you’ve never had a paperback grab you by your shirt and throw you across the room, get ready for “TOMAHAWK REVENGE”.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wilderness #04 - Blood Fury

The first three books in the 'Wilderness' (David Robbins as David Thompson) series were consistently very good, and it became my favorite western series. I’d begun to wonder, though, if things would soon fall into a rut once our hero ran out of new Indian tribes to deal with and new species of wild animals to confront. 

Those concerns were misplaced - or maybe just premature (we’ll see) - because the fourth book in the series, “Blood Fury”, is the best one yet. Apart from a scary encounter with a wolverine, the material here isn’t necessarily brand new, but what the author does with it is extraordinary. 

As usual, there isn’t really a plot, just a situation which naturally develops into a string of crises. Each crisis will be more dangerous than the last, culminating in a very wrenching climax. 

I can’t describe much of what happens without giving too much away. All you really need to know is that if you’re a mountain man and you run afoul of Ute warriors, it’s not enough to just run from them. They will follow you and follow you on a mission of death, tracking you night and day over any sort of terrain, and there’s no escape until one party or the other has been exterminated. Given that much information, you might think you know how this novel will end. But never underestimate David Robbins’ ability to hit you with the unexpected!

You won’t find many westerns that can beat “Blood Fury” for suspense. There’s no shortage of action or violence either.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Wilderness #02 - Lure of the Wild

The second installment of the 'Wilderness' series (David Robbins as David Thompson) is another road show in which our hero, former NYC accountant Nate King, continues his lessons in frontier life while traveling on a horseback journey with a different mountain man mentor. 

In this installment, Nate’s teacher is a bard-quoting experienced frontiersman nicknamed Shakespeare. They are on their way to an annual rendezvous of trappers and mountain men when they encounter several varieties of Indian - both hostile and friendly. In fact, the whole novel is a series of violent, gory battles with Indians separated by a masterclass in 1800's Native American culture and norms taught by Shakespeare. Not knowing much about American Indian ways, I can only assume that the author did his homework and got it mostly right. In any case, there were plenty of interesting Indian factoids shoehorned in between the scalpings and the gun-play. 

Along the way, Nate also meets an Indian girl named Winona who has her eyes on Nate as possible husband material despite a vast cultural chasm. The possibility of feelings and romance between the two seemed unbelievable by modern standards, but I guess that was the whole point of the story-line.

“Lure of the Wild” is a great action novel, and the battle scenes are sufficiently violent and bloody to keep the reader hooked. The interpersonal drama between Nate and the Indians he encounters is never dull and the newly-introduced characters are compelling and nuanced. The only criticism is that the author seems to be taking his time in telling the overarching story of Nate’s evolution from dandy urban bookkeeper to master of the wilderness. I was excited to see what happens at the mountain man rendezvous, but it seems I’ll have to wait until book three to enjoy that story.

Wilderness #03 - Savage Rendezvous

This third novel in the long-running 'Wilderness' series (David Robbins as David Thompson) is very good, and as always it’s especially strong in its realism and historical detail. Dramatically, it’s also pretty solid, but it’s not quite up to the standard of the first two books in the series.

The 'Wilderness' novels are about a young mountain man in the 1820s (at this point he’s more of an apprentice mountain man) and his adventures in the Rocky Mountains. In “Savage Rendezvous”, our hero is looking forward to the annual gathering of trappers in the area to make some friends and buy supplies. The event is known informally as the Rendezvous, and this will be his first visit to one.

That foundation is promising and based on historical fact, but I didn’t feel it was really explored very well. Instead, our hero and his mentor arrive and are immediately beset by bullies for no real reason, leading to a succession of confrontations, fistfights and gun-play. All that testosterone keeps things from ever getting dull, but for some reason I couldn’t really engage with this part of the story. It isn’t bad, but the bullies are more annoying than dramatically compelling, and we’re stuck with them for the rest of the novel.

Far more involving are interludes with hostile Indians (always a hallmark of this series) and these tense cat-and-mouse encounters are very suspenseful. There’s also a pretty good twist at the end. Overall, “Savage Rendezvous” isn’t the best that this series can offer, but even a second-tier 'Wilderness' book is mighty good reading.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Wilderness #01 - King of the Mountain

“King of the Mountain” is the excellent debut of David Robbins' ‘Wilderness’ series. It was released by Leisure in 1990 under Robbins’ pseudonym David Thompson. The series ran 66 volumes over the course of 20 years, and also extended to “giant” versions as well as omnibus collections. Set in New York City (population 100,000) in 1882, Nate King is a low-level accountant with a crappy boss and a job with limited upward mobility. His girlfriend is a materialistic pain in the neck who will only marry him if he can establish that he has the capacity to support the spoiled girl. A solution to this problem presents itself in the form of a letter from Nate’s long-lost Uncle Zeke, the family pariah who ventured west to pursue frontier adventures. Zeke wants Nate to meet him in St. Louis and promises a share of the “treasure” Zeke has amassed. Driven by his own wanderlust and greed, Nate sets off on a horseback adventure to meet Uncle Zeke in St. Louis. From there the adventure continues westward. This is basically an origin and travel story where a city dandy learns the ways of a wilderness mountain man on a cross-country horseback adventure. The mentor/student scenes are both enlightening and captivating. The road adventures include run-ins with dangerous wildlife, kindly Native Americans, scalp-hunting savages and conniving road thieves. There are plenty of scenes of explosive, bloody violence and tension-filled stand-offs. The author also injects several interesting historical tidbits of pre-cowboy frontier life in the unsettled west - you’ll be thrilled while learning a thing or two. This debut was a straight-up, nearly perfect genre novel and it will make you want to continue the story into book two and beyond.