Mick Farren,
(Tor, 2003)

When I picked up Underland I didn't know it was part of a larger series. I picked it up because I'm always ready for a story involving Nazis and flying saucers -- so when starting out I was already behind as to what had come before. But, to my surprise, Mick Farren did a solid job of filling me in on the backstory (of which there is plenty -- so you should be warned that if this is the first book you're going to read in this series; be prepared to have a lot of plot twists from the previous books spoiled for you). The players and events up 'til now didn't so much as get in the way of the story as help to carry it along. But this doesn't mean it helped to complete the story, either -- in fact, Farren uses the back nine of this adventure to set up events for the next book in the series. And there is one major plot twist/conclusion that is so casually thrown into the mix it almost brings the book to a dead stop because you can't believe what just happened or why.

Underland is a fun book, but like most vampire novels it tends to get crushed under the weight of not only its own lore, but the lore of all vampires that have come before. There are aspects of Anne Rice here (in the deep backstory of our vampire hero, Victor Renquist). There is some Laurell K. Hamilton as well, though luckily not as much sex. (Sex does rear its behind in Underland, but not to the mind numbing degree that Hamilton is fond of using in her later works). There's even a Clive Cussler-like plot twist that helps to drive the story along (if Dirk Pitt became a vampire -- or as Renquist likes to claim, a Nosferatu, then he'd be a bit like Renquist).

And while I was captivated by the set-up (think The X-Files meets the Umbrella Corp. from Resident Evil) and the opening chapters (detailed, very rich, but never too heavy), Farren completely loses the reader by the close of the book by giving us a simple "cut and run" ending where everything is blown up or lost, and characters not needed for the next book are killed.

It's all over too fast at the end, and instead of working around the problem Farren just opts to vaporize it. It's pure deus ex machina -- down comes the hammer of the gods and: end scene! Roll credits....

In fact, I'm not even sure why this book is even part of the same series. There is simply no clear reason why Renquist, or the rest of his clan, should be involved as they really don't do anything. This book could have easily been written with a fresh set of characters and been the start of a brand new series. As it stands, Underland is a divided work -- with Farren trying to hammer in his vampires and write something outside the norm for vampire fiction. It doesn't completely work, but it never totally fails either.

In the end, Underland has some good ideas, some solid writing, but takes too long to get to an end that's over too fast for it to have any meaning. For fans of the series, it's a disappointment, but for first-time readers it's a puzzle that will leave you wanting to jump back to book one and see just where this all began.

- Rambles
written by T.E. (Bob) O'Sullivan
published 18 June 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.