I have always associated Brian Keene with horror and was pleasantly surprised when I won a copy of his latest ebook in return for an honest review. The Lost Level is a mixture of science fiction and fantasy if you think of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World mixed with HG Wells The Time Machine add a modern makeover then the result is a fast paced fun read with superb imagery.
In the opening chapter we meet Aaron Pace who is busy writing his memoirs by hand on a spiral-bound, college-ruled notebook inside an abandoned school bus. What a marvellously inventive way to start a story and soon Aaron takes us on a journey to a parallel dimension "The Lost Level" where we meet his future travelling companions Bloop and the lovely Kasheena as they try to fight their through a land frought with danger...in an attempt to reach Kasheena's home just beyond The Temple of the Slug. "I was in the fabled Lost Level. I'd read about - that dimension from which there is no exit, where cosmic castaways wash up and are abandoned".
When Aaron first encounters his new travelling companions he has to rescue them from The Anunnaki. "Some of my people suspect the Anunnaki live deep below the ground. Some say they capture us for breeding. Others say it is for slave labor or food." As they journey through hostile land Keene introduces the reader to some horrific and yet highly entertaining and inventive enemies.The tikka-bird is very small but dangerous no bigger than a thumb most of it as teeth and best described as a flying piranha. "Their bite is poisonous, and can paralyze their prey within a few heartbeats. When they attack, others like them are drawn by the scent of blood. Such a flock can devour you within minutes, stripping the flesh from your bones"
One of my favourite encounters that befalls our group of heroes is with the octophant best described as an upgraded elephant and Keene's descriptive prose is truly breathtaking...."At the bottom of the hill, lying amidst a circle of crushed grass, was a female creature the size of an elephant. Indeed, at first glance I thought it was an elephant, as she bore the same hide, colorings, ears, tail, and bulk of the elephants back home. But she differed in one shockingly distinct way from anything familiar on Earth. Instead of one singular trunk, the beast had a cluster of eight hairy trunk-like tentacles surrounding its mouth. They weren't lined with suckers, the way an octopus or squid's tentacles were. Instead, they simply seemed to be additional trunks, each one capable of performing individual tasks. My breath caught in my throat as I realized what I was looking at - the fabled octophant of occult legend, a creature conisgned ot the same catalogue as unicorns, griffins, dragons, and other mythical beasts. Yet here it was, a fairy tale made flesh."
Due to the nature of the story and its setting the author has taken the oppotunity to allow his imagination some indulgence which is sheer delight for the reader as towards the end our intrepid trio happen upon a.....flying saucer! but not any old flying saucer this particular one bears the insignia of the German Reich namely the Swastika. This flying saucer holds a nasty surprise as within it contains the mummified bodies of four Nazi pilots and a tube like scientific flash containing a dangerous and deadly radioactive agent! "Holding my breath, I turned tail and ran, nearly knocking Kasheena over as I plunged outside. My heart pounded, and my vision blurred as I stumbled toward the Nazi insignia on the exterior hull. I slammed my palm against it, and the hatch whispered shut behind us, sealing the craft once again. Only then did I exhale..."
This is a story that pulses and vibes from page to page with breathtaking action, descriptive prose, and unexpected and frequent frightening encounters. It is a story that took me out of my comfort zone and kept me thrilled and entertained to the very end.....and even then I hoped for more. But I close this review safe in the knowledge that Mr Keene will once again be revisiting The Lost Level to continue the memoirs of Aaron Pace and I for one will be eager to support this hero as he struggles to adopt to his new life in this strange and dangerous land.