Once Upon a Time in Hell
by Guy Adams
Excerpt: No | Book Trailer: No
Reviewed by: Megan | Source: NetGalley
Book two of The Heaven’s Gate Trilogy. A weird western, a gun-toting, cigarrillo-chewing fantasy built from hangman’s rope and spent bullets. The west has never been wilder. A Steampunk-Western-Fantasy from Guy Adams.
"Heaven? Hell? There’s no difference. Angels, demons, we’re all a bit of both. This could be the most wondrous place you ever experience or so terrifying it makes you pray for death. Not that death would help you of course, there’s no escape from here."
Wormwood has appeared and for twenty four hours the gateway to the afterlife is wide open. But just because a door is open doesn’t mean you should step through it.
Those who have traveled to reach the town are realizing that the challenges they’ve already faced were nothing compared to what lies ahead. The afterlife has an agenda of its own and with scheming on both sides of reality, the revelations to come may change the world forever.
If Guy Adams is to be believed, the best way to get to Heaven is to go through Hell. Literally. In ONCE UPON A TIME IN HELL, the second part of his Heaven’s Gate Trilogy, the survivors of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INFERNAL finally make it to the mythical town of Wormwood, where once every hundred years a select group of pilgrims gets a chance to peek into the afterlife. Whether that afterlife is upstairs or downstairs seems to depend on the person – but the Dominion of Circles is clearly ‘where the party’s at,’ and the twists on the journey of the Five-Man Band made for a hell of a ride.
Sometimes you can jump into the middle of a series without issue, but given that Heaven’s Gate is billed as a trilogy, I would recommend starting at the beginning. I didn’t feel lost plot-wise in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HELL, but there was a sense of missing out, and if there was a steampunk aspect to the series as the description suggests, it was dropped for this sequel which predominantly takes place in the steam-less afterlife. Adams has assembled a diverse and interesting cast to populate what I would call a horror-filled Western, and my only significant struggle with the story was the dueling first-person narrators. It was difficult at the start to keep them straight, and I got the impression that Patrick Irish – recovering pulp novelist – was a leftover narrator from the first book. His first person POV felt somewhat stilted, and largely unnecessary, though I did enjoy his meta observations about writers.
The novel really sparked when Elwyn Wallace took over the narration. Having missed THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE INFERNAL, I didn’t know much about Elwyn, but his ‘Average Joe,’ nice-guy-in-over-his-head character comes through with perfect clarity. Both his naivete and his travel plans express a sort of weary resignation to following orders, though he does get a chance to meet the most interesting people – or creatures – while wandering around Hell. The scene on the gambling barge where memory is currency is equal parts fun and nightmare-inducing.
Adams’ Hell is creepy, and disturbing, just as it ought to be, with a real streak of creative sadism. Its inhabitants are not strictly speaking evil, but more the sort of minions out of underworld myths and legends. Though Heaven is, by contrast, empty and vacuous, the final scene in the citadel suggests all Hell is about to break loose – and take Earth along with it, priming a new world order for the final book of the Heaven’s Gate series.
- The Good, the Bad and the Infernal
- Once Upon a Time in Hell
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