Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: Mad Shadows by Joe Bonadonna


Mad Shadows is one of those rare works of fiction that I’m glad I read. It is so well written and so imaginative in its realization of setting and characters that I find myself envious of its author, Joe Bonadonna. This guy can write and his imagination leaves me in awe. Mad Shadows is a collection of stories set in the world of Aerlothia. Writing in the grand tradition of Robert E. Howard these stories all feature Dorgo the Dowser,  a hero with an edge. Bonadonna refers to these stories as gothic noir in his afterword and I couldn’t agree more. The six stories offered here are beautifully realized, moody pieces with memorable scenes, characters and plots. The first story, Mad Shadows, pits Dorgo against some shadow creatures and something called the Demonheart. This initial tale sets the mood for the entire book and is one of my favorites. In each of these stories there are deft plot mechanizations that add depth to the story and this is what I appreciated as well. In The Secret of Andaro’s Daughter Dorgo is given a map against his will which leads him down a complicated path of treachery and deceit involving a missing coffer and the supposedly the secrets of transmuting base metal into gold. The surprise ending won’t be revealed here. You’ll have to read the story to see what happens. The Moonstones of Sol Lunarum  Dorgo is asked to help find said moonstones which come from Khanya-Thoth and in The Man Who Loved Puppets (another favorite) he encounters a witch intent on reviving her dead sister at a terrible cost to the village children. The fifth tale, In the Vale of the Black Diamond, Dorgo sets out to find a magical diamond in order to use it and spare a friends brother from Virulian lung disease. An outstanding adventure, In the Vale of the Black Diamond is the best piece of heroic fantasy-adventure I’ve read in years. The final tale, Blood on the Moon, is a werewolf tale befitting the amazing world Bonadonna has created. Blood on the Moon is the perfect coda to such a collection, a riveting and entertaining story. These stories are all interconnected by events and characters but can be read individually. His writing is imagistic: “Pale mist, stained the color of blood, drifted through the silent streets of Okalin like a floating vapor of dragon’s breath (p.292).” The bottom line is this – when they talk about the “New Pulp” literary movement in fifty years Mad Shadows will most certainly be one of the penultimate volumes in any discussion. Masterpieces like In the Vale of the Black Diamond and Blood on the Moon are all the proof I need that Joe Bonadonna has written a lasting and vibrant book. Kudos!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Tom! I can't thank you enough for this magnifcent review of Mad Shadows. It both humbles and inspires me to keep on going with Dorgo. I'm looking forward to diving into The Trail of the Burned Man. Just one more novel in the que to read before I get to yours. Thank you very much again. Hope to see you soon, and my best to Jane.

    -- Joe Bonadonna

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