Waters of Darkness is the new novel from David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, published by Damnation Books. Longtime readers of my column will recognize Bonadonna as the author of the well-received sword & sorcery title, Mad Shadows and the recent space fantasy, Three Against the Stars. David C. Smith will be familiar to Robert E. Howard fans for his series of Red Sonja novels in the 1980s.
The shade of Robert E. Howard lingers over every page of Waters of Darkness, the first collaboration by these two talented authors to see print.
The principal characters, Crimson Kate O’Toole and Bloody Red Buchanan, would have fit in nicely had this 17th Century swashbuckler first seen print in the pages of Weird Tales in the 1930s. A quest for fabled treasure sets these two buccaneers sailing for the Isle of Shadow in the far distant Eastern Seas.
They find themselves combating an evil priest of Dagon and the sorcerer in his thrall along the way and most of the crew of the Raven pays the cost for their having crossed paths.
This book is extremely fast-paced and is perhaps the new pulp title that most closely rings with the authentic flavor of classic pulp. It is not surprising since David C. Smith was always among the top echelon of Robert E. Howard pastiche writers, and Joe Bonadonna has quickly established himself as a breath of fresh air in the new pulp world.
Together, the mixing of both men’s styles (classic pulp of the finest caliber with quirky and highly literate mixing of fantasy, hard-boiled humor, and an expansive cinematic vocabulary) produces what will doubtless be hailed as one of the finest new pulp titles of the year.
While Dagon is no stranger to lovers of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard’s works, the characterization of the protagonists and antagonists are what sets Waters of Darkness apart. A startling story development three-quarters of the way through the book left me certain a supernatural cheat was headed by the end of the story, but the authors chose to avoid a clichéd ending and instead play fair with readers.
The fact that this particular story development was not left for the climax came as an even greater shock in retrospect. Any book this good that doesn’t follow the formula note for note is really exceptional and worthy of closer scrutiny.
The antagonists, Selim and Azul, are a double act in the classic tradition, but one that again shatters the reader’s expectations of which should be the master and which the henchman. This switch-up made both characters far more interesting than if their pairing had been more traditional.
It is great having David C. Smith writing pulp again and pairing him with a talent like Joe Bonadonna really does up the ante for both writers and makes them an unbeatable team.
I’m not certain that Waters of Darkness qualifies as either author’s very best work, but it is at least their most satisfyingly original and like two other classic characters of the past, the unexpected pairing of David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna has all the hallmarks of the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Keep writing together, guys. I suspect you will continue to go from strength to strength.
Do yourself a favor and don’t let this one slip by you. This has already been a strong year for new pulp, but this is one swashbuckler that isn’t likely to be equaled.
William Patrick Maynard was authorized to continue Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu thrillers beginning with The Terror of Fu Manchu (2009; Black Coat Press). It was followed by a sequel, The Destiny of Fu Manchu (2012; Black Coat Press). Next up is a collection of short stories featuring an original Edwardian detective, The Occult Case Book of Shankar Hardwicke and a hardboiled detective novel, Lawhead. To see additional articles by William, visit his blog at SetiSays.blogspot.com