Purgatory: Soldiers of Misfortune by Darryl Olsen
Purgatory: Soldiers of Misfortune by Darryl Olsen was a very pleasant surprise. I had never heard of it or of its author, but when Darryl Olsen offered me the book, I took it gladly. The blurb seemed interesting from the start, but such fantasy isn’t my area of expertise normally. But this book sucked me in right from the start: It was full of action, fast paced, mysteries wherever you looked and a lovely group of characters.
Elite Soldier Harry Taylor is dying from cancer and his death is inevitable, but when he next wakes up, he’s in a ruined city from the 1960s, fighting for his live from the very start. Over the course of the first chapters he meets and rescues more people that remember dying as the last thing before coming to this apocalyptic place. Notable is especially Luke, a soldier that died in a night attack and the gear he carries with him: weapons and other stuff useful for surviving in a dangerous world like this. More people join the safety provided by the weapons and skills of these two soldiers, who try their best (though sometimes grudgingly) to keep their mates save from the horrible beasts stalking the night and the leviathans; a sect under Von Ruse that enslaves and eats the newly arrived “souls”.
The search for a way out of this place is the main goal of the characters, though it often has to be put aside in favor of survival.
The first thing about the setting I noticed was how easily it could be turned into a computer game: apocalyptic scenery, fighting and scavenging for survival, meeting and protecting other newly arrived souls, running from maugs (crossbreeds between dogs and humans) and leviathans, figuring out all the mysteries and trying to find a way out of this hellhole. As the reader you get taken on an adventure including everything I mentioned above: Our little group has to scavenge and fight for survival, run from danger and figure out what the hell is going on.
Where exactly they are isn’t clear (even though the book is called Purgatory) and will hopefully be cleared up in the next installment(s). The theories of the characters vary and at least the inhabitants seem to actually see it as Purgatory, but other things point to other explanations like a different dimension or something similar.
The biggest problem I had with the world is how small it seems. We have the city from the 1960s, the fortress of the leviathans and some mountains in the distance as the only real landmarks. Everything between is mostly barren land. The problem I have with this is that the group gets to everywhere really fast. The fortress isn’t even a day’s march away from the city and even the base of the mountains can be reached rather fast.
When you think about two major groups – leviathans and rebels – occupying that small place, it gets rather cramped and the question arises how they could live so close for so many years without one wiping the other out. And there’s the question why Van Ruse doesn’t use the city as his base of operation, especially since new souls seem to only arrive there. Another question in this regard is why the city is still full of supplies. The group has a constant worry for their food supply, but they’re still finding enough cans with food to fill entire sacks with. Why isn’t that already scavenged by the leviathans, who have a shortage of food?
The group of characters in this book is overall quite interesting, but we see everything from Harry’s POV, with only a handful of switches. That’s good on one hand, because he’s a very interesting and level-headed character even in this nightmare, but it leaves the reader wondering about the state of mind of everyone else. Of course that’s mentioned and implied, but because of the fast paced action there isn’t much time for character development and I would’ve loved to read how everyone in the group copes with such a situation. But maybe that’s part of the next installment.
The group is diverse and likable overall, with some interesting characters. What I didn’t like was the way the women of the group were handled. Don’t get me wrong, they’re presented as strong women and played their part, but they never really engage in the planning of the group’s survival. Normally, Harry comes up with an idea (often arguing about it with the other men of the group, especially Luke) and he presents it to the women, who seem to simply agree most of the time. I think it’s overall a bit old-fashioned how the women are handled–always getting protected by the men without really taking action themselves. You could probably argue that Harry and Luke are professional soldiers and the women might get in the way, but when you’re stuck with a handful of people in a dangerous place like this, I wouldn’t be surprise if everyone had to take part in protecting the group.
There aren’t many times you can relax while reading, because the action doesn’t stop. Even when you think that the group has found a place to stay (even if it’s only for a night) you’re still as alert as the characters, because in this purgatory everything can happen and one second of inattention can get everyone killed. You get carried away on a string of events that gives you no time for respite.
This book is written for adults and that shows in many places: Some of the torture and punishment scenes are revolting, sex is part of the story and there’s some heavy swearing. The first and second ones are done very good and shed some interesting light on some of the (female) characters, but I think the swearing is totally over the top. For some characters “fuck” is the word of choice for everything, sometimes going so far as to be their only contribution to the dialog or saying nothing else a couple of times in a row. I can understand that it’s a fucked up place, a fucked up situation the characters found themselves in and they are fucking hard men, but you don’t have to go this far out of your way to make that visible. It’s not a game-breaker, but it gets annoying very fast and it doesn’t have impact in the later parts anymore, because it’s so overused.
Overall it was a interesting and good read and I can recommend it. I’m looking forward to the sequel(s), because I’ve grown attached to the characters and I want to know if they can get out of this mess in one piece. It helps a lot that there’re many mysteries that haven’t been solved yet, because there will still be much to discover in the next installment(s). If you like fantasy with grit that features modern-age soldiers stranded in a hellhole and trying to get out of it while protecting their little group of unfortunate souls, this is definitely your book. For everyone else that’s unsure whether or not s/he’ll like it, I can only advice you to try it out. You won’t regret it.