Note: Margaret Wander Bonanno is a dear friend who encouraged me several years ago to take up writing fiction. She and I almost never see eye-t0-eye on politics, but it’s that difference that complements our discussions and keeps me open to different ideas.
Review: Black Sun Reich
By Margaret Wander Bonanno
As a lover of language, I get a kick out of learning regional expressions. Here’s one I especially like: acres of strange. Is it a Southern thing, is it a Texas thing? Beats the hell out of me. But it’s what’s going through the mind of Fox Rucker, the antihero-hero of Trey Garrison’s Black Sun Rising, as he unwittingly gets himself involved in a complex mix of espionage, vampires, zombies, mutant soldiers, necromancers, and, oh, yes, Nazis. If there’s a simple way to describe this first of the Spear of Destiny novels, it’s that: acres of strange.
There are plenty of alternative history novels out there – novels where the South won the Civil War, novels where the outcome of World War I was very different from the reality we know. Black Sun Rising blends the two with a soupçon of Vatican intrigue, to create geopolitical alliances that, while puzzling on the surface, ultimately make a bizarre kind of sense.
It’s hard to follow an opening scene as bloody horrific as a group of religious acolytes eviscerating themselves under the command of Der Schadel, a villain who can safely be said to put the “eeee” in Evil, but Garrison does so, with a rollicking steampunk journey for which the best advice, in Margo Channing’s immortal words, is “Fasten your seatbelts…it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
Enter Fox Rucker, flying ace and citizen of the Texas Freehold, two outcomes of the aforementioned How-the-South-won-the-Civil-War. A little bit Indiana Jones, a little bit Mal Reynolds, a whole lot doer of great deeds kind of by accident, Rucker seems to know everybody who’s anybody in 1928. The darnedest people keep showing up in his company, from Nicola Tesla to Howard Hughes to the woman who broke Rucker’s heart, who also happens to be a trained assassin.
Then there’s the hapless Dr. Deitel, as prudish a Prussian as was ever drafted into the espionage business, who carries dire documentation from inside the growing Nazi regime in his homeland, and whom Rucker’s in charge of babysitting so that the Gestapo doesn’t kill him before his information is delivered to those who can stop the threat. Can this Odd Couple stop bickering long enough to get the job done before Schadel’s Nachtmenn – horrific creatures bred out of the chemical warfare of the Great War, and seemingly impervious to conventional weapons – are unleashed on a mission of global conquest, or will they kill each other first?
There’s humor as well as horror here, not to mention Easter eggs galore – references scattered throughout the narrative as a nod and a wink to fans of Star Trek, Firefly, and others too numerous to mention. Black Sun Rising is one of those novels you’re still reading at two a.m., as you tell yourself “Just to the end of this chapter and then…oh, damn! Just one more chapter, and then…”
And it’s only the first of three. Acres of strange, indeed.
You can find and buy Margaret’s extensive catalog of works here.
For my money, her novel BURNING DREAMS was my favorite, but I look forward to reading her THE OTHERS trilogy. Do yourself a favor and check her out.