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Seedling is the thirteenth book in James Axler's Deathlands series set in an alternative world where America has long been devastated by nucleur conflict. Ryan Cawdor and his rag-tag band of mercenaries patrol The Deathlands, formerly known as The United States Of America, using secret matter-transporters hidden deep beneath abandoned goverment redoubts but, unable to programme where they are going next, often find their destinations open to chance. Sometimes this works out in their favour but, most often, it can also go right against them.....
This time around, their latest jump appears to lead them, and not for the first time one suspects, off-planet (in a previous jump, Ryan and his friends nearly perished from lack of oxygen with only Ryan's quick actions helping them jump again to a new destination). With the only exit some form of Airlock, Ryan foolishly decides to take a risk and explore where they have ended up. This time it is the swift actions of Armourer, J.B.Dix that quickly manage to save the day when something large and threatening comes out of the desert beyond, presumably with intentions of devouring the latest arrivals to its home. Once again, the band are able to make it back to the Gateway and jump but are left with more questions than answers....
Their secondary location proves to be somewhere the group have come close to passing through before; what was once known as The Big Apple, the ruins of what was once New York. Fans of this series, or readers of my reviews, will recall that the band passed by New York once before on the way to Ryan's family Barony for a sibling "reunion"! This time, with new addition to the team, Mildred, the group decide to explore and see what is left of America's once great city; a reccee that takes on added importance when Ryan learns about the presence in the city of what could well be his ten year-old son. Readers will recall that mention of this son first occurred back in previous book, Time Nomads, and it was only a matter of time before he worked his way back into the series. But to find him, Ryan and his band must first get past an army of mutant Scalies; an army that seems strangely organised into some kind of local Militia!
This is another cracking entry in The Deathlands series that owes much to John Carpenter's Escape From New York. Long have comparisons with this series been made to that film (with Ryan sporting an eye-patch much like Kurt Russell's Snake Plisken) but here the similarities are made more evident and not just because they share a location. The city has a King of The Underworld but here the leader is former fleeting associate, Harry Stanton. Film geeks will recall that Harry DEAN Stanton played the character of Brains in Escape From New York who worked closely with the King of The Underworld who there was known as The Duke. Also, in another chapter, Scalies are seen emerging from the sewers much as bad guys in Carpenter's film emerge from beneath the city in one iconic scene! It is obvious that Axler is playing up to his fans film knowledge and his own inspiration and scources of ideas as well as working in the long-recognised similarities between Ryan and Snake.
The plot, though it could be accused of being contrived, actually works very well with one or two subtle twists thrown in. Certain questions are left unanswered such as where exactly the Gateway they arrive in is located (it appears to be situated in the ruins of a once lavish house); who the young girl is who appears in the middle of a snowstorm only to vanish when the Wag they are travelling in seems to collide with her (if she is an illusion she is shared by Ryan and Dix ~ is she another literary reference like Axler has included before or does she bear some relevance in future chapters of the series?); where exactly DID the group end up in the beginning of this novel (could they have arrived on a colonised planet elsewhere in our solar system perhaps?) and what happens next as the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger with no big reveal as to how the mutants have managed to organise their forces! One can only hope that at least some of these answers will be forthcoming in the next installment but it is true that rather than leaving me frustrated, these questions rather left me mouth-wateringly eager to quickly pick up the next and fourteenth volume in the series!
This series is still managing to go from stength to strength with each new installment and even some of the weaker entries have still proved to be highly enjoyable, if not quite managing to maintain the high standards of previous novels. I am pleased to say that this latest is one of the better ones and I love the fact that the group have finaly gotten around to visiting New York. Surely Washington, or what is left of it, cannot be far behind.......?
All I know is that I cannot wait for book number 14: Dark Carnival!