Mad Shadows III: The Heroes of Echo Gate (Pulp Hero Press, February 2021). Cover artist uncredited
Joe Bonadonna’s third installment of his Mad Shadows, Dorgo the Dowser series, The Heroes of Echo Gate, was announced this Feb 2021 at Black Gate. We covered Dorgo’s world and Bonadonnoa’s cinematic narrative, which we’ll touch upon again during this review. Also on Black Gate, the author of the internationally acclaimed IX Series, Andrew Paul Weston, reviewed all three books of the Mad Shadow series. This post reinforces those articles and highlights this fresh fantasy adventure’s (a) Epic Scope, (b) Cinematic Style, and (c) Faith theme.
The Heroes of Echo Gate is fun, fresh fantasy. Dorgo and his fellowship of Harryhausen-like creatures defend a magical portal from a horde of demons. Epic!
As the cover implies, we have our beloved weird-fiction investigator & mercenary Dorgo (the guy front and center on the cover with the dowsing rod and sword) defending the titular portal with a band of friends (most of whom could have stared in a Ray Harryhausen movie. For the young readers take note that Harryhausen was the “Frank Frazetta” of cinema who gave life to the fantastical creatures before computer graphics were invented). There are three acts that follow the classic purposes: setup, rising tension, and an epic battle. The climax consumes a full third of the book and resonates with all the grandeur of defending Tolkien’s Helm’s Deep. The city of Soolaflan, on the island of Thavarar, is the fortress and it is situated around Echo Gate. Demons from across time want access to it. The portals across the world of Tanyime (and even across time and space) echo those from C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle and even Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga.
(a) Epic Scope
Read the first two books to appreciate the players and the role of the Wandering Swords group: Book One: Mad Shadows by Joe Bonadonna and Book Two: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent. The first two are episodic weird-mystery with Dorgo taking the spotlight. The adventures are more “Crime & Sorcery” than “Sword & Sorcery.” Dorgo is not an official constable or justice keeper, but he is a hired layman with investigative skills and a magical dowsing rod. Bonadonna brands his Dorgo tales “Gothic Noir” which is fitting. Despite the weirdness of Valdar city and the threatening necromancy that abounds, we know Dorgo will survive and resolve any case as surely as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did.
Heroes of Echo Gate is simply more epic than the first two. First, the structure abandons the episodic set of stories for one epic tale. Secondly, the point of view (although maintaining a focus on Dorgo) pans back to feature a party of 6-8 heroes. Also, at 318pages, it is larger than the first two (at 270 and 233 pages). With these changes, combined with the prevalence of non-human creatures and some engagement of royalty, Heroes of Echo Gate fits a high-fantasy mold.
(b) Cinematic Style & A Fellowship of Harryhausen Creatures
Joe Bonadonna weaves in Easter Eggs to his many relationships/bibliography. Two obvious ones I caught were: (1) the “Rogue Blades” mercenary group, a call out to Jason M. Waltz’s Rogue Blades Foundation publishing (Bonadonna has a contribution with David C. Smith in RBF’s Scott Oden Presents: The Lost Empire of Sol); (2), a description of weird terrain that contained Waters of Darkness (the title of a book Bonadonna co-wrote with David C. Smith).
Bonadonna has written articles for Black Gate wherein he describes how cinema informed his style. Prior/in-addition-to writing, he was a rock guitarist, songwriter, and even a board member of the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network. So he composes as if he is writing for the camera, and his mind has been influenced by the masters. This reads like a homage to classic fantasy films. Dorgo’s group comprises creatures right out of the 1958 7th Voyage of Sinbad and the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts. This time, many of the Harryhausen-like beings are heroes rather than villainous monsters; for instance, the cyclops Quedemas (with his hilariously named warhammer “Daisy”) and his compatriot Saburo the minotaur serve as warriors with Dorgo. Incidentally, those two are like brothers and their comradery is emotionally engaging. Plenty of animated skeletons, evil harpies, and some Talos-like automatons are also present.
The Heroes of Echo Gate begs to be put into stop-motion, cinematic form.
(c) Conflict: Faith
Like lots of fantasy, there are themes of spirituality or faith being explored. There is nothing heavy-handed here. Expect just the right amount of thought-provoking tidbits one may expect when protagonists are battling angelic/demonic powers. As much as the monsters are drawn from Mount Olympus and cinema, the angels reflect various Christian manifestations (i.e., nuns). Everyone, good or evil, seems to play with Odyllic power, the same magic that empowers Dorgo and his dowsing rod. At root of the conflict is the corruptibility of those without faith in gods versus those who are faithful. Also at play is the faith in companionship/brotherhood (outside of religion).
The Heroes of Echo Gate expands the scope and influence of Dorgo the Dowser. Check out his adventures in the Mad Shadows series:
Joe Bonadonna is the author of the heroic fantasies Mad Shadows-Book 1: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser (winner of the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy); Mad Shadows-Book 2: Dorgo the Dowser and the Order of the Serpent; Mad Shadows-Book 3: The Heroes of Echo Gate; the space operas Three Against The Stars and The MechMen of Canis-9; and the sword & sorcery adventure, Waters of Darkness (in collaboration with David C. Smith.) With co-writer Erika M Szabo, he wrote Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin (winner of the 2017 Golden Books Judge’s Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy), and The Power of the Sapphire Wand. He also has stories appearing in: Azieran—Artifacts and Relics; GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear; Heroika: Dragon Eaters; Poets in Hell; Doctors in Hell; Pirates in Hell; Lovers in Hell; Mystics in Hell; Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 4; Unbreakable Ink; Sha’Daa Toys (in collaboration with Shebat Legion), and The Lost Empire of Sol (with David C. Smith.) In addition to his fiction, he has written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.
S.E. Lindberg is a Managing Editor at Black Gate, regularly reviewing books and interviewing authors on the topic of “Beauty & Art in Weird-Fantasy Fiction’ (# Weird Beauty) . He is also the lead moderator of the Goodreads Sword & Sorcery Group. As for crafting stories, he has contributed five entries across Perseid Press’s Heroes in Hell and Heroika series and has an entry in the just-released Weirdbook Annual #3: Zombies. He independently publishes novels under the banner Dyscrasia Fiction; short stories of Dyscrasia Fiction have appeared in Whetstone and Swords & Sorcery online magazines.