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Heavy Metal Pulp: The Bloodstained Man: Netherworld Book Two by Christopher Rowley
Cover Artist: Gregory Manchess
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765323897
Date: 08 June 2010 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Rook Venner and his friends are on the run from the government--but they don't know why. The secret is locked in the brain of Plesur, a genetically engineered plaything who once belonged to a general. They've gotten Plesur an IQ-boosting upgrade, but their problems are only beginning...

Such is the situation in The Bloodstained Man, the second part of Netherworld by Christopher Rowley. Driven out of Manhattan, Rook, Plesur and Mistress Julia must take refuge in the lawless stretches of New Jersey. Seems the Garden State is now largely uninsured and thus condemned, home only to roving gangs and small enclaves of survivors.

Their desperate flight from New York places them in the hands of an artist with ties to the Latins, a major gang. Unfortunately, word has gone out that Plesur is worth a fortune, so Rook and the women don't exactly end up prospering among the Latins. Rook is thrust into vicious gladiatorial games, while Mistress Julia and Plesur are offered up as prizes to the Latins' top dogs...until the real criminal elite comes calling, anyway.

Facing a tangled knot of political agendas and secrets left over from the dark days, when society nearly broke down for good, Rook has to swim with the sharks--including an ancient power-broker with plans of her own, even as Plesur and Mistress Julia follow an escaped slave to what just might be safety. It's a respite, anyway, and gives them a chance to consider their next move.

If they survive that long.

Rowley provides high-octane action, bare-knuckles politics and even some sex in this release from Heavy Metal Pulp, a publishing line that embodies the madcap "sexy/violent sf" of the fabled magazine. There's rarely a moment to catch one's breath, as the heroes rocket from one bad scene to the next with nary a break between.

Rook, a cop who investigated the wrong case, is a solid leading man; he's doing the right thing, reluctantly, but never backs down from his principles. That's a rare thing in this bleak, dystopian future, where everything and everyone has a price. Plesur, a "Pammy" model (make of that what you will), recognizes Rook's innate nobility. She's grown, not just because of the brain-chip she's gotten but because she wants to be worthy of Rook--it's an interesting development, and reflects some creative subtlety at work here.

Mistress Julia, a dominatrix with her own secret side, is ingenious at using her skills to turn a bad situation to her advantage. It's a clever strategy and one worthy of a resourceful woman facing a fate worse than death.

The storyline hasn't cleared up much from the first book--we don't know why the secret Plesur carries is that important or why it could result in massive upheaval--but that's okay; the secret is really just a McGuffin to move these interesting characters around a world circling the drain.

Rowley's got me for the next (final?) installment, because I want to see how this all turns out.


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