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Kultus by Richard Ford

Thaddeus Blaklok – mercenary, demonist, bastard and thug-for-hire – is pressed into retrieving a mysterious key for his clandestine benefactors. Little does he know that other parties seek to secure this artifact for their own nefarious ends and soon he is pursued by brutal cultists, bloodthirsty gangsters, deadly mercenaries and hell spawned monsters, all bent on stopping him by any means necessary. 

In a lighting paced quest that takes him across the length and breadth of the steam-fuelled city of Manufactory, Blaklok must use his wits and his own demonic powers to keep the key from those who would use it for ill, and open the gates to Hell itself.

I remember hearing once somewhere, that Mos Eisley spaceport is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. After reading Kultus, I am convinced that Manufactory may come a close second. The inhabitants of this city, bar a few notable exceptions, are a resolutely nasty bunch. Everyone spends much of their time looking out for number one. Double crossing family, friends and business partners is standard practice.

Into this mix we are introduced to the force of nature that is Thaddeus Blaklok. He is best described as a ‘tattooed bulldog’ of a man and after reading the descriptions of the iron willed tenacity he exhibits this certainly seems appropriate. Put it this way, I certainly wouldn’t necessarily want to meet Blaklok in a dark alley; but you’d be sorted if you found him fighting in your corner.

After reading about fifty pages of the novel I found myself wondering – Is Thaddeus Blaklok the first proper Steampunk geezer? He reads like he is blueprint for the archetypal Steam Punk; all ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude, and unfettered aggression. He has a gruff, violent, no-nonsense approach to dealing with his problems. This tends to be both amusing and brutal in equal measure. I was easily won over by his laconic anti-heroesque bolshieness. Blaklok stomps around Manufactory one hundred percent focused on the task in hand. He will retrieve the Key of Lunos and he will return it to his bosses, and woe betide anyone who gets in his way.

The good news is that irrespective of how driven he is, Thaddeus doesn’t have an easy time of it. Where would be the fun in that? He faces many groups of adversaries who are just as determined as he is to gain the Key for themselves, There’s nothing more important than a magical maguffin after all. Whether it be the innumerable followers from the Cult of Legion, the local constabulary, or a group of mercenaries known as The Hounds – all are out to stop Blaklok and dispose of him in various unpleasant ways.

Richard Ford’s writing style displays a nice cinematic quality which lends itself well to the action scenes that make up big chunks of the story. It’s certainly easy to imagine the likes of Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel playing Blaklok in the movie version of the book. I was going to say any famous bald actor but I’ll be honest – I don’t think Patrick Stewart is muscular enough, and Ross Kemp is just plain annoying.

Whenever I hear a novel described as ‘steampunk’ I have a mental checklist that automatically kicks in. I won’t bore you with all the details, but near the top of this list is the requirement that the names of the characters involved are suitably evocative. I’m just not happy until I see oddly named individuals appearing in the text, strange but true. The good news is that Kultus delivers plenty of this – Castor Cage (is this a subtle reference to the John Woo classic Face Off?), Earl Beuphalus Westowe,  Trol Snapper, Quickstep and Thaddeus Blaklok himself. You just know with outlandish monickers like this, things are going to be fun.

Kultus is just a shade less than three hundred pages long and the story rattles along at a reasonable pace. I could have lived with a few more pages, as I think it would have been nice to learn a bit more than a few hints of Blaklok’s colourful history. I’m always keen, and find it interesting, to discover more about the origins of a character.

The good news is the novel finishes with a nice little epilogue that acts as a perfect setup for further Thaddeus Blaklok adventures. Blaklok is a lot of fun and I would certainly welcome the opportunity to read more of his exploits. Here’s hoping that in the future, there will be chance to do so.

Kultus by Richard Ford is available on Tuesday 1st November 2011 and is published by Solaris.


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