Crater Lake is the fourth in James Axler's Deathlands series about an alternate America devastated by nucleur war that is slowly struggling to rebuild and survive. Fans of these books, or readers of my latest reviews, will recall that one-eyed mercenary, Ryan Cawdor, has discovered secret matter transporters buried beneath goverment and military redoubts and, with his team of soldiers, is now using them to travel across the battered waste-lands.
In Crater Lake, the group find themselves in near idyllic surroundings. The region they arrive in has seen little damage from the war and could almost be an ideal place to settle should they decide to. Unfortunately, Ryan is not quite content to give up his nomadic lifestyle just yet, not even for lover Krysty Wroth, and besides there is hidden danger lurking just beneath the surface. In Deathlands, sometimes things ARE too good to be true...
After escaping a strictly-enforced Ville with antiquated laws by the skin of their teeth, Ryan and his friends soon find themselves following a radio broadcast directing them to a lost scientific community. Hoping to get answers as to how to better control the transporters they have been randomly using, they instead find themselves discovering the truth about another of their team, the mysterious Doc Tanner; a man lost out of time!
Long have they wondered at the Doc's supposed senility. Was he as confused as they first thought or did he actually, as he seemed to, have insider information about events before the war despite that being nearly one hundred years ago? The answers are perhaps less surprising to the reader than they are to Ryan and his companions but the biggest shock comes when they discover exactly what is the purpose of hidden Crater Lake!
This is one of the strongest of the series so far despite the scientific villains of the piece resembling something out of a cheap late 70's or early 80's b-movie! There is a real examination of some of the consequences of war and the continuing story-arc of Ryan and his companions travel is given most welcome page-time! You really feel as though, with this book, the series is headed somewhere and not just blindly ambling along and once again, there is much here to like and enjoy.
This is a series that could so easily and wrongly be dismissed as pulp sci-fi fiction but instead what we are left with is something quite clever and enjoyable. This series has a real message to tell about the futility of a war that consumed the planet whilst still managing to be action-packed and full of thrills at the same time! I love all the characters here now that the wheat has been seperated from the chaff and any weaker players have been lost by the wayside and it is good to finally feel as though the reader is getting a regular cast to follow on their adventures! The people who make up Ryan's entourage now are mostly here to stay, at least for the next few novels anyway, and this gives a real sense for the reader of being a part of the team, not just along for the ride! Where in previous novels we had minor characters being dispatched along the same lines as cast members were culled in the original Star Trek, now this seems to have been abandoned in favour of a regular support for Ryan and this is without doubt the best move Axler could make to further this series!
We leave Crater Lake with a sense that this is just the beginning. And, in fact, with ninety odd novels still to go that can only be a good thing! Personally, I cannot wait for the next nail-biting installment!
Book Series: Deathlands