Grayson Hooper’s Shadebringer: Book One: The Land of Irgendwo (River Grove Books, 300 pp. $15.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle), is a work of high fantasy with a strong Vietnam War theme. Hooper is an active-duty Army Major and a physician.
In this, Hooper’s first novel, main character Clyde Robbins is killed during the war, then wakes up in another world. If you can buy that premise—as I had no trouble doing—then you will most likely enjoy this story.
Robbins was a baby-faced teenager in Philadelphia when he enlisted in the Army and, after attending NCO school “in hot-as-balls Georgia,” he rose up the ranks quickly, eventually becoming an E-6 Staff Sergeant. In February 1969, less than two weeks after he arrives in-country, Robbins gets his first kill.
After six months of fighting, Robbins thinks, “War did not make sense to me. So why am I here? Why do I thrive? Is my sole purpose to engender pain and chaos? Can I bring nothing else to those around me besides suffering?” In response, he hears a disembodied woman’s voice say, “We will give you purpose, Clyde.”
Robbins wakes up as if from sleeping not knowing where he is. Before long, he’s running from danger, possibly monsters, and wondering if he is dreaming. Being told that he’s in a totally different reality, “in a different world now,” he has flashes of memory involving a hunt for a downed pilot and running into a ferocious, deadly ambush.
After making a long climb up a mountain he thinks, “My legs burned over the final step, and I wheezed like a wheelchair-bound vet with a tank of oxygen on my ass.” He learns this new world is based on continuous conflict and thinks, “Funny, the similarities of this world and the previous one.” Robbins becomes the long-prophesized Shadebringer, who will help the good guys win.
Hooper presents this book in the first-person so we’re constantly aware of what Robbins is thinking. One time it’s, “Prayers meant nothing on Earth, and I assumed they fell on deaf ears here, too.” Other times, it’s, “What exactly happens after death in a place after death?” and, “I’m done fighting for other people over things I couldn’t care less about.”
When Robbins asks what the people want from him, he is told, “Become hope. Become even the smallest candle in this darkness, and you will have our eternal gratitude.” When a short sword is placed in his hand, we realize this interesting story is about to get even more exciting. Bring on the re-animates and the “dreadicans.”
I enjoyed this novel, which put me in mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work. I highly recommend Shadebringer for fantasy fiction fans, and encourage all adventure-minded readers to give it a try.
The author’s website is graysonwhooper.com