An American soldier gets transported from the Vietnam War to a magical realm in this debut fantasy.
It’s 1969, and Clyde Robbins is headed for Vietnam. He ships out as a staff sergeant after officer training, ending up at the Long Binh Army base. The horrors of war quickly become real for him when he shoots a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl who sneaks a grenade onto the base. Later, Clyde is haunted by the death of Claude Thibodeaux, a young soldier killed by a napalm strike. Clyde’s own life ends in a firefight with Vietnamese combatants. But he wakes in a place that “tasted like Vietnam with all its shadows” but is somehow different. A woman’s voice in his head says, “Arise. You are not safe here.” Clyde leaves a burial field and proceeds to the nearby woods. He meets a German Luftwaffe pilot named Jens Grüber, who welcomes him to Irgendwo, a place that collects dead warriors throughout history. In the Citadel District of Mora, Clyde is jailed by the Council under the suspicion of being a shadebringer, one capable of breaking the rule of Lord Ek Maraine. Will Clyde help defeat the dark forces of the goddess Mother Daedrina or shrug off yet another war that’s been foisted on him? Hooper, an Iraq War veteran, creates a viscerally absorbing introduction to a fantasy series. While crawling in the Vietnamese jungle, Clyde describes it as wearing “a thick wool blanket dunked in a pond of leeches and duck shit.” The cynicism of the era is also captured when Clyde tells Claude early on: “You’re gonna die here, boy.” The Vietnam narrative is so nightmarish that the subsequent fantasy can’t help but feel like a rollicking adventure by comparison. Irgendwo is filled with soulless Hollow children, necromancers like the alluring Miriam, and a hauntingly familiar man named Do. Despite being sick of fighting other people’s wars, Clyde finds the inspiration to help the people of Junedale, whose slippery morals echo those of the military that trained him. This opening volume ends on a warm note, highlighting an indefatigable optimism.
Scalding prose takes readers from gritty warfare to an engaging fantasy romp.