Mortality Bridge is Steven Boyett's first book since his comeback novel Elegy Beach, published last year as the 25-years-later sequel to his breakout novel Ariel. Superficially, Mortality Bridge is a very different novel from Boyett's earlier work, an existential horror novel about a man who goes to hell to rescue his lover, but like Boyett's best work, Mortality Bridge is a gutwrenching novel about loss and redemption, deserved guilt and betrayal, with an antihero whose quest is at once the stuff of cracking adventure stories and a tragic tale of facing up to one's own cowardice and weakness.
Niko is the antihero in question. Once a junkie rock-star who'd hit bottom, Niko signed a deal with the devil that rocketed him back to stardom, got him clean of his addictions, and brought back Jemma, the love of his life, whom he'd chased away with his doping and mercurial temper. What Niko didn't spot in the fine print of his diabolical deal was that his "chattels" were also forfeit to Hell, and now that Jemma has given him her heart, it has become his chattel, and so when Jemma begins a slow, agonizing death from cancer, Niko realizes that he has damned her along with himself.
Niko -- who has already been lost and redeemed once -- can't bear to let this come to pass. And so he formulates a mad and cunning plan to follow Death as he ferries Jemma's soul to hell, and there, he will play his guitar for the devils and the damned, and win back his love.
Boyett's Hell is steeped in mysticism and antiquity, borrowing freely from the Greeks, and Dante, and Bosch. Each turn in the underworld gives Boyett a fresh excuse to unlimber new grotesque phrases, stomach-churning descriptions of tortures too horrific to contemplate (though Boyett forcefully insists upon it).
Meanwhile, Niko's race through Hell is one of the greatest supernatural adventure stories of recent memory, surpassing Niven and Pournelle's classic Inferno (itself a very good novel on a similar premise, even if it does turn on the power of Hell to redeem one of history's great monsters). It is not a mere allegory about sin and redeption, cowardice and nobility: it's also a damned good story, which sets it apart from almost all existential allegories.
Published 9:44 am Tue, Nov 8, 2011
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