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Mortality Bridge by Steven R. Boyett
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Press Hardcover /Signed Limited  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063754
Date: 31 July 2011

Links: Publisher's Website / Author's website / Show Official Info /

A deal with the devil, a descent to the underworld to reclaim a loved one, a trek through Hell to witness the suffering of the damned. Mortality Bridge deals with some of the oldest themes in literature, throwing in elements of Dante, the legend of Orpheus, and every deal with the devil story out there. This is a difficult literary legacy to live up to, but Mortality Bridge makes it look easy, creating a story that gains depth and power from the famous stories from which it borrows, but makes it all feel fresh and original all over again.

The novel is about rock star and ex-junkie Niko, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for success and freedom from his addictions. However, in the fine print of the contract is the proviso that anyone whose soul becomes too closely linked to Niko's is also doomed to hell, and that's exactly what happens to Jem, the love of his life. When she dies, Niko descends into hell with his guitar to convince the devil to let her return with him. Along the way, Niko will witness the creative and eternal sufferings of the damned, including several people he knew in life.

Niko is an excellently realized character. The descriptions of his love for Jem, his slide into addiction, and his remorse for the mistakes in his life are incredibly powerful, forging an instant bond with the reader. We suffer with him for his weakness and his selfishness, and this makes us yearn for his redemption right alongside him. I found myself terrified on his behalf every time it looked as if, having come so far, he would fail in his quest.

The plot moves quickly, a good mix of action and danger on the one hand and exploration of Niko's character and his attempts to deal with the horrors he encounters in hell. The middle of the novel drags at times, with a few too many descriptions of suffering souls for my taste, and a few scenes whose gruesomeness is not for the faint of heart, but it picks up for a pulse pounding final segment. The author also does an excellent job of updating classic motifs while maintaining their resonance; the reimagination of Charon as a Taxi driver driving an antique black sedan is an example of this.

Mortality Bridge has something for everyone: great characterization, vivid description, pulse pounding action scenes. But it is also more than the sum of its parts. It is a story of human weakness and redemption, a story that is even older than the myths that the novel draws upon, a story we can all relate to. This is an incredible, touching, exhilarating work, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.

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