CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
Ned Stapleton and the Wrath of the Death Gods.
Brandon, MB: Emerald City Storytellers (Distributed by Peanut Butter Press, 55 Willowbend Cres. R2N 1V2 or www.peanutbutterpress.biz), 2006.
174 pp., pbk., $13.95.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Darleen Golke.
Darkness and cold washed over Ned, although he could still make out vague details of his surroundings. There was something in the shadows ahead of him - something gigantic.
A voice pierced his head like icy spears.
"YOU HAVE LOST, HUMAN WHELP, NOW YOU ARE MINE TO DO WITH AS I PLEASE. THERE WILL BE NO RETURN AND THERE WILL BE NO ASCENSION."
Ned did not understand very much of this, but it all sounded bad.
"DO I EVEN KNOW YOU?" he thought as loud as he could.
"NO, BOY," came the frosty reply, "BUT YOU WILL . . ."
Smaller creatures in the darkness slowly advanced.
From between the roots in the ceiling's smoke hole, a raven flew into the hall. In its talons it held a small wooden box. Ned noticed the bird as it dove towards him and the looming darkness. He was reminded of Joseph's tale of Raven Steals Sunlight, where Raven housed the sun in a little box. Instinctively, he shielded his eyes as the raven dropped the container to the stone floor.
The box burst with the brilliance of the noonday sun, and everywhere creatures screamed. Ned chanced a quick look and realized that his curiosity was not doing him any favours. The giant in front of him was a hideous thing. The shadows clung to its twenty foot, emaciated frame. The sunlight revealed the upper body of a hag with half of its face still hidden by darkness. Its lower body was that of a decomposed corpse, with rotting flesh and protruding bone. The wild haired hag cringed and cowered from the light. People and other strange beings all ran for cover.
The raven swooped down around Ned and cawed for him to follow. As Ned ran after it to one of the hall's doorways, he realized he had no idea how he understood that he was to follow. He just knew.
Ned smiled to himself. Talking to animals was pretty cool.
"Once the bullet hit him, Ned died quickly..." Victim of an apparent random shooting by a jewellery store robber, 15-year-old Ned Stapleton floats in Nowhere. "He knew he wasn't dead, but there was still this rather alarming notion that he wasn't exactly alive either." Screaming, howling beings surround him until, thrown clear, he awakens in the presence of Joseph, a "very old and very ill-kept native" who promises to help bring him "back to life." Joseph, also known as the Savage, the changeling, Coyote the Trickster, explains that Ned has upset the "eternal balance" and "ticked off a few high and mighty superior beings" by refusing to stay dead. Only by digging up his body and taking it to an old Egyptian (Osiris) living somewhere in the Rockies does Ned stand a chance of reclaiming his life. A long-time reader of comics and fantasy, Ned has developed a bit of what Town refers to as "perceptual flexibility" and accepts Joseph's astonishing proposal, only gradually learning that the wily native guide has his own agenda.
Joseph secures a beaten-up but magical flatbed truck for their journey from the Toronto area across the prairies and the Canadian Rockies to the interior of British Columbia and the almost nonexistent town of Spuzzum. Along the way, the Death gods, especially Hades, Lord of the Underworld and Greek God of Death, attempt to stop the travelers from reaching the old Egyptian. Ned and Joseph face fierce storms accompanied by winds and lightning, zombies, creatures disguised as humans, sensitives (humans who have the ability to penetrate Joseph's invisibility cloak), a fire-breathing dragon, and finally Hades in human form. Joseph shares driving duties with underage Ned; inevitably in Saskatchewan Ned earns the attention of an RCMP officer who morphs into a nasty skeletal being that injects Ned with "something unwholesome" to claim Ned "through sickness." A raven guides Ned through the Norse Underworld to Baldur who helps Ned navigate around the Cave of the Dead Hound, cross the Unsurpassable River, and face down the Hag. Another friend of Joseph's "suck[s] the sickness" from Ned's body, then leaves with the raven for his own final journey. The travelers stop at the West Edmonton Mall where Ned must fight off an attack from a dragon sent by the Death Gods. In the final showdown with Hades, Joseph manages to deliver Ned to the Old Egyptian and distract Hades enough to facilitate Ned's successful resurrection. Joseph, however, succumbs to the injuries inflicted by Hades; Ned, drawing upon the very powers Hades feared and tried to stop by having him killed, defeats the Lord of the Underworld who "ceased to exist."
Self-published works often demonstrate why established publishers rely on skillful editors to catch inconsistencies and grammatical errors. Town's romp through "magic realism" suffers from some of these errors. Nevertheless, Town creates an engaging protagonist for young fans of fantasy to enjoy as they share his quest to reclaim the life wrestled from him by a powerful being who feared his potential. An unusual coming of age tale, the novel presents entertaining characters, plenty of action, and the requisite good triumphing over evil. Drawing from world mythology, especially the Norse world of the dead, Town organizes the "quest" to restore Ned's life via a road trip along the Trans Canada and the Yellowhead Trail highways. Humour lightens the horror with Ned's amusing commentary about Saskatchewan, his ruminations about Deer Crossing signs, a visit to the West Edmonton Mall, and Joseph's caustic wisecracking and storytelling. Storytelling plays a major role in the novel as Joseph spins native tales about coyote and raven to entertain Ned as they drive westward. As Coyote the Trickster in human form, Joseph's magic facilitates the journey assigning raven and coyote to bail Ned out of several difficult situations. Town incorporates the Trickster's heroic attributes that traditionally include transformation, travel, lofty deeds, humour, and cleverness balanced against less heroic characteristics like greed, vanity, mischievousness, and trickery.
Town adds the novel to his film credits, including Prairie Wiseguys, Surprise Visit (Best Director, 2004 NSI National Exposure Amateur Movie Contest), Untamed Suburbia (2005 Vancouver Celebration of Excellence premiere), and Mosquito (a popular Firefly fanfilm). Nathan is currently in post-production on the retro sci-fi noir feature entitled The Magellan Affair. With partner, Bob Green, Town established Emerald City Storytellers, a Canadian publishing and production company.
Darleen Golke writes from Abbotsford, BC.
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