Latitude Zero is the twelveth, of ninety-nine books at last count, to feature in the Deathlands series set in a futuristic post-apocalypse America. Readers of my reviews, or fans of this ongoing series, will recall that the novels centre around Ryan Cawdor and his band of mercenaries as they travel across the land by means of secret matter-transporters hidden deep beneath goverment military redoubts. Except this time around, things are a little different.......
Following on directly from the last book, Latitude Zero begins with Ryan and his companions taking shelter just as the last military redoubt they left self destructs due to a booby trap device the group accidentally triggered. Left with no other means of getting around, the group resign themselves to a long walk until they can find another trans-mat device and another goverment hidey-hole. Short on supplies, they are soon made up when they come across a small ranch where they can rest, recuperate and plan their next move. After all, Ryan has not long been back from the brink of death due to food poisoning and time traveller, Doc Tanner, has never been exactly swift on his toes!
Unfortunately, all is not well at the homestead and Ryan and his companions are soon forced once more to do what they do best: deal some death! Heading out a second time, the group next encounter a travelling convoy of Wagons, searching for a fair and promised land where they all can settle. In exchange for food and water, Ryan and his team agree to help defend the Wagons from wandering marauders but when the convoy crosses the path of the infamous Skull-Face, they soon realise that Deathlands really is a small, small world indeed. For Skull-face is someone the group have met more than once before; the last time disguised as the reincarnation of General Custer!
Considering this is the third appearance for one shady character, an adversary who has featured twice before in the not-so recent past, it might be forgiven for assuming that this might be one of the Deathlands weaker chapters. In fact, this is not true and what we get is actually a very original and unique approach to the twelveth book in the series. Not only is one character's return handled very well but the fact that the band are forced to abandon their usual method of crossing vast distances in an instant at the beginning of this book and travel like everyone else in Deathlands, also helps make this a very original entry in the series!
These books could readily be accused of being very formulaic with each following a similar pattern; the group encounter a small settlement or ville where nothing is as it appears before moving on to something bigger and the main focus of the novel, but it is also true that with these books, you always have a bit of an idea what you are going to get. Sometimes this works well, other times not quite so much but it is good the way that, on occassion, James Axler is not afraid to mix things up a bit and give both us and the companions a refreshing new perspective and a new take on an established plot structure!
Though the ending is a tad predictable and a little contrived, this is another strictly above-average tale from what is fast becoming a very reliable series that is much better than most people might think to expect! Featuring the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another, one character once more fails to make it beyond the final page (the first to depart since Lori's tragic demise), this is essential reading for any true Deathlands fan and though it can be read as a stand-alone, is better appreciated as part of the grander series due to its over-reliance on past encounters.
Overall, this is one of the better books in the series and well worth a read!
Book Series: Deathlands