Revelation: A World at War – A Dark War Novel
Mark H. Walker
In a first for this blog, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to participate in a kind of ‘dual review’ of a title. Not only am I reviewing Revelation: A World at War – A Dark War Novel on my blog, but my friend Coiler will also be posting a review over at their most excellent Fuldapocalypse Fiction blog (review here), where they willingly dive into the genre of World War III thrillers and dig out the gems – and the fool’s gold – to be found in that burgeoning field. It’s a fantastic blog with some entertaining and insightful reviews, and I’d urge my readers to also follow Coiler.
In recent months, I’ve been very much focusing on horror titles for this blog, and it’s a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. However alternate history has always been an interest of mine, and I can’t help but sporadically dive back into the Kindle listings for the genre and try and dig out the occasional gem that manages to rise above the dross that unfortunately makes up the bulk of the genre. There are a few titles that I’ve identified and had on the back-burner for when I was interested again in writing about the genre, and was about to turn to one of those when my friend and blogger Coiler directed me to a title that they thought I might enjoy. Knowing it would be alternate history, but nothing else, I decided to click on their link, and to my surprise was taken to the Amazon page for Revelation: A World at War – A Dark War Novel.
I will readily admit that I was, at first, more than a little sceptical. Although Coiler has an abiding passion for the World War III genre – which simultaneously becomes more dated and more alternate history with every passing day – I’ve always been much more dismissive of the field. Although I read classics like Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee and General Sir John Hackett’s seminal The Third World War: The Untold Story when I was much younger, when I attempted to go back to the genre in later years, I found the books I found online to be deeply derivative, often turgid, and universally uninspiring. There was only so often I could read awkward prose with gossamer-thin characters wedged in between reams of explanation about weapons systems, excessively detailed tank combat, and bland political manoeuvrings before I gave up and moved onto more fruitful pastures such as my beloved Horror genre.
However, Coiler has always had a good eye for titles, and the cover art – of shattered, burning buildings with something that looked suspiciously like vampire bats flying in the sky above them – was sufficiently competent and attractive that I decided to take a look at the cover blurb. It only took a few sentences before I was intrigued – although it starts off with the usual tropes of the genre – it’s Western Europe in 1985 (it’s always 1985 in these books for some reason), the Soviets have invaded because reasons and the hard-pressed Western forces are struggling to contain them etc. So far, so pot-boiler. But then I saw why Coiler had recommended it to me – because as the fighting goes on, we’re told, the fabric of reality begins to thin out and even tear, causing things to come out into the open after centuries of hiding in the shadows. By the time it mentioned werewolves – sorry, Lycans – vampires and demons, I was absolutely hooked and downloaded it immediately. After the sheer brilliance of Burning Sky by Weston Ochse, I was in the mood for another military horror title, and this certainly seemed to offer up something similar.
Revelation may be firmly set within the World War III genre, and obeys many of its stereotypes and tropes, but all due credit to Mr Walker for not mindlessly following the narrative format it usually follows. He refrains from any scenes of politicking, ensuring that we as readers are not bored senseless with the usual dull scenes of politicians actually beginning the war, and almost immediately drops us into the action. Within only a few pages, we’re into the thick of the fighting, as an American tank crew are fighting for their lives against a seemingly endless parade of Soviet military hardware. But prior to this, he immediately transcends above his competitors by providing several short chapters that not only demonstrate some real imagination, but also gives some interesting, even compelling, background to the book. In short order we’re introduced to a CIA Analyst who reviews situational reports of the fighting in Europe while also possessing some eyebrow-raising psychic powers; and an immensely attractive, almost hypnotic, woman in a bar in West Germany who becomes interested in an American infantryman. Then, as mentioned, we’re straight into the fighting, but I was genuinely impressed with these sections – they demonstrate a use of imagination and original thinking that is often sorely lacking in the genre as a whole, and they helped sustain me.
Those little hints at the start of the book did have to sustain me for a little while, because Revelation is still a World War III title, and it does rather suffer from the genre’s most tiresome tropes. It seems like every bullet, shell and mortar round that is expended during the conflict can’t be fired without describing its calibre and the weapon system that deployed it, and vehicles are described in the usual minute detail. It would be fair to describe the first quarter of the book as a little bit of a slog, as we follow the various main characters fighting their way slowly westwards, and there was a temptation to skip ahead a few pages every so often, although I was able to resist based on the opening chapters. The text indentation also takes a little getting used to, and certainly on a smaller Kindle screen can be a little hard on the eyes, but I adjusted after a little while.
That being said, however, Mr Walker is a more than competent writer, and I did find some of the action scenes to be particularly well-written despite the conventions of the genre. The pacing is quite even as well, another sign that Revelation rises above its fellows, and the general atmosphere of an intense, potentially reality-shattering conflict, is well presented. Indeed, I thought that the idea of a slow but inexorable lowering of temperature in the region – as the blood shed causes reality to thin out – was a genuinely original narrative device that engaged me as a reader. And although it takes some time for the occult elements of the novel to make their appearance, the author is smart enough to parcel them out and not just unleash them – figuratively and literally – all at once. The vampire character is introduced, and then the Lycan packs, and finally a particularly memorable demon who rejoices in all of the bloodshed and destruction and doesn’t want it to end. The latter character in particular was by far one of the most interesting to follow, and while I won’t spoil the novel, what it does to try and ensure the war continues was one of the most compelling parts of Revelation.
Finally, just when I thought I had a handle on the plot and where it was heading, Walker pulled off several twists in the last quarter of the book that surprised me. I had assumed this would be about nomadic occult elements arising due to the Cold War going hot, but then the author sprung an unexpected surprise by introducing the idea of an overarching society, a very old one, involved with these creatures and beings. That, plus the late appearance of a rather cool Soviet officer who hunts occult creatures, led to some compelling plot lines and aesthetics being introduced, and helped firm up the wider universe that Walker was setting the foundations for throughout the book. Although there were times where it couldn’t quite shed the narrative and compositional demands (and constraints) of the genre, by the last few chapters Revelation had managed to impress me. The writing is quite good, certainly better than the usual titles in its field, and there’s some impressive world-building and imaginative thinking going on, allied with an increasingly tense atmosphere as the fighting goes and the more explicit occult elements become involved. It’s definitely a stand-out book in the genre, and one that I’m glad to have read despite my initial scepticism, and I’m glad to see that there’s another book (and supporting short story) that I can get stuck into in short order.