Okay, time for a book review! I know this blog focuses primarily on movie & TV monsters, but literary beasties can also receive some love on this blog from time to time…. and this particular book is FULL of weird critters!
GONJI: DARK VENTURES is written by T.C. Rypel and comprises two tales featuring the heroic fantasy character Gonji Sabatake, a wandering samurai with Nordic heritage.
First, a bit of background on the Gonji character…
T.C. (Ted) Rypel created this half Scandinavian/half Japanese samurai character in the 1980s, placing him in an alternate reality version of 16th century Europe, where firearms & gunpowder mix with swordplay, sorcery and supernatural beasts. Previous Gonji books include DEATHWIND OF VEDUN and FORTRESS OF LOST WORLDS. Here’s a painting by Joe Rutt, depicting a wyvern-battle scene from the Gonji novel RED BLADE FROM THE EAST…
And here’s a painting of the carnivorous Cave Worm from THE SOUL WITHIN THE STEEL…
Anyway, let’s get back to GONJI: DARK VENTURES. The first story is the novelette ‘Reflections in Ice’, which is linked to a previously published Gonji novel and features a cool encounter with cannibal trolls. The yarn has the hero pursued by otherworldly foes and is basically a revised and expanded version of the opening chapter from the novel FORTRESS OF LOST WORLDS.
The second story, the novella ‘Dark Venture’, is the real reason you should seek out this book. It is an action-packed tale that follows Gonji and a disparate group of pirates as they become trapped in a truly weird ship’s graveyard zone.
This place is filled with all kinds of dangers and horrors!
Instead of the ocean, this zone has a massive, white mass of sentient, evil-controlled, protoplasmic gloop that ensnares vessels. This gloop is able to form semi-transparent, pseudopod-like tentacles that swallow victims whole and digest them very, very slowly.
Gonji and his companions must also ward off ape-hound hybrids, dodge attacks from flying, razor-faced manta ray creatures, wriggling worm-lampreys, floating killer bubbles, rogue black hole discs (?!) and loads of shambling protoplasm-zombies. But that’s not all! Other dangers include blue lightning charges that can burn victims to a crisp, a wretched, multi-limbed being created by sorcery and a daemon that becomes a massive spectral cobra. Of these monsters I have to say the flying manta rays are my favourite critters.
Whilst reading this story it occurred to me that I could imagine Robert E Howard and William Hope Hodgson getting together to rewrite the script for THE LOST CONTINENT (1968) – and this would’ve been the result. Now believe me: that is a massive compliment!
That Hammer film told the story of a tramp steamer ending up in a Sargasso Sea full of killer seaweed and giant crustaceans. It’s certainly a colourful, sweaty, bizarre treat, but GONJI: DARK VENTURES is about a thousand times more outlandish and incident-filled!
Writer Ted Rypel (a member of Monster Zone’s Facebook group) has told me that he is ‘a sucker for “Sargasso Sea”-type terrors’ and with this Gonji story, set in a twilight zone of corrupted magic, he has produced a very colourful, violent, acid-trip-mad, monster-filled, thrilling read set in a ghastly blob-sea!
Finally, here’s the GONJI: DARK VENTURES book cover illustration without the blurb. It depicts Gorgulho, who is revealed later in the story to have been made from the sewn-together limbs, torso and features of various men. It was painted by Larry Blamire, the writer/director/actor of such wonderful sf spoofs as THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001) and DARK AND STORMY NIGHT (2009)…