Booyah! The spirit of old-school lost world pulp fantasy is alive and well in The Lost Level. Even if he hadn't paid homage to his literary influences in the introduction, Brian Keene's fondness for that lost genre is evident upon every page. This is a story that truly has it all, from dinosaurs and Nazi spaceships, to nuclear-powered robots and alien greys, to razor sharp grass and carnivorous ponds.
Lest you fear The Lost Level refers to some kind of video game or virtual reality adventure, rest assured that Keene remains true to the early 20th century origins of the genre. It actually refers to a lost realm, just one more parallel world accessed through occult mystical portals - but the only one where the portals is a one-way trip. Actually, before we get to the world itself, I have to give Keene credit for the amount of detail he puts into the occult element. It really comes across as something Lovecraft or Howard might have written, relying on candles, pentagrams, and obscure chants.
As for our hero, Aaron Pace is the perfect sort of every man to anchor us in such a strange world. He doesn't have any special talents or skills, isn't ridiculously strong, and is neither overly handsome nor charming. He's an average guy, decent, loyal, and sincere. Understandably, he suffers a bit of a nervous breakdown upon realizing he's trapped, and he never loses his longing for home, but he makes the best of the situation. Kasheena, the beautiful tribeswoman, and Bloop, the anthropomorphic blue beast, are worthy companions, each of whom brings something unique to the story. They make for an effective trio, supporting one another against the dangers of the world as they attempt to take Kasheena home.
Along the way there are any number of dangers, both large and small. During his first few days in the new world Aaron is badly burned by the corrosive blood of a giant insect, nearly loses a leg to living, writing, razor-sharp grass, and watches as a pond comes alive to reach up and drag down its victim. Kasheena and Bloop teach him to beware the tiny little piranha-like hummingbirds, and together they watch as a giant robot battles a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex. Amid all these dangers, both natural and unnatural, Keene also introduces us to a vicious race of reptilian humanoids who challenge the heroes at every turn.
What brings it all together is the way Keene links The Lost Level to our world, suggesting that it is responsible for everything from the Bermuda Triangle to disappearances. It allows for all manner of monsters and machines to inhabit the world, often in the most unexpected ways and places. It's a fun, imaginative story, well-paced, and full of surprises. While it's only the first in a series, it is a complete tale, but one that will leave you hungry for more.
Paperback, 186 pages
Expected publication: January 19th 2015 by Apex Book Company