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Book Review: Devil’s Highway by Simon Bestwick

“Bestwick has delivered an excellent cross-genre blend which shall appeal to horror, military, and action fans alike.”

It has been a very busy and productive year for Simon Bestwick with the release of numerous short stories, novellas and novels. Where this may have led some authors to sacrifice quality for quantity, fans of this author know that they have no need to worry about such things. Indeed, with Devil’s Highway, the follow-up to Hell’s Ditch and second book in the ‘The Black Road’ series, Bestwick has delivered an excellent cross-genre blend which shall appeal to horror, military, and action fans alike.

Although it is the second book in a series, Bestwick has managed to make it accessible to both fans of the first book and newcomers alike, which is no small feat. For the initiated there are mentions of Project Tindalos and the origin of Gevaudan. But for those new to ‘The Black Road’ series, these are small insights that will only broaden their understanding and heighten their enjoyment of the story of the conflict between the Reapers and the rebels. Part post-apocalyptic horror, part military action, Bestwick has crafted a thrilling tour-de-force novel full of military grade action sequences and complex characters. But also moments of intense emotion and the lightest touches of romance which combine to deliver a compelling story that pulls you in and refuses to let go.

But there are elements of horror and science fiction too, most effectively portrayed by the Catchmen, the horrifying offspring born of the ashes of Project Tindalos. Almost unstoppable killing machines that are perhaps best described as programmed zombies under the control of the nefarious Dr. Kellett. They are designed to pursue their target no matter the danger to themselves. And that target is Helen Damnation.

But Helen has more to worry about than just an army of robotic undead. She is still being haunted by the vengeful spirits of her husband and daughter who demand a soul sacrifice to compensate for their untimely demise at the hands of the Reapers, either Helen’s or the Reaper Commander, Tereus Winterborn. This phenomenon is referred to as ghostlighting within the book but, even though a number of the characters witness the spectral presence of loved ones lost in the war and occasionally interact with them, only Helen’s seem to have this menacing agenda. These moments of ghostlighting offer greater insight into the minds and motivations of Bestwick’s characters, adding some much needed emotion to counteract the action scenes.

Not to say there is anything wrong with the action scenes; this is of course the basis for the novel with the Reaper’s attempting to cleanse the country of anyone they deem inferior and the heroic rebels fighting to survive. And the action is very well written with just the right amount of detail given to the military procedures and weapons used while mixing it with the horror of human suffering, the story never finds itself bogged down in too much technical description or depressing scenes of horrific war. It flies along at breakneck speed and the reader can’t help but be drawn in.

The action does slow down towards the end as, during the ultimate battle for the rebel’s recently discovered HQ, Bestwick intersperses the multi-character POV chapters (something he does very well) with flashback scenes that not only show us the origin of Helen’s story from the moment the first bomb fell, but also offers some insight into the origin stories of some of the other major players in the story. This ultimately leads to some of the most emotive and harrowing scenes as we see the events that led to Helen losing her family and also the motivations for Reapers’ pursuit of Helen.

At the end of the book, Bestwick handles the conclusion of the story with the touch of an expert storyteller while also setting up the story to continue into book three with a new threat. It is clear that he has more in store for fans of ‘The Black Road’ series and we will not be disappointed.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Snowbooks
Hardback: (320 pp)
Release Date: 17 October 2016

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