Richard Ford – Kultus

Thaddeus Blaklok – mercenary, demonist, bastard and thug-for-hire – is pressed into retrieving a mysterious key for his clandestine benefactors. Little does he know that other parties seek to secure this artefact for their own nefarious ends and soon he is pursued by brutal cultists, bloodthirsty gangsters, deadly mercenaries and hell spawned monsters, all bent on stopping him by any means necessary.

In a lightning paced quest that takes him across the length and breadth of the steam-fuelled city of Manufactory, Blaklok must use his wits and his own demonic powers to keep the key from those who would use it for ill, and open the gates to Hell itself.

Kultus is a prime example that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. When Kultus first came out back in November of last year, for some reason I assumed it was a zombie story from the cover and thought ‘meh, I don’t like zombies’ and consequently didn’t read the synopsis or any reviews I stumbled across. However, when the author approached me and asked whether I’d like to review the book, I actually read the synopsis and thought it sounded really interesting. So having learned my lesson about books and covers, I happily accepted his offer and I’m glad I did so.

I liked Kultus and its protagonist Thaddeus Blaklok. It’s a tale that sweeps you along, with lots of action and violence. Thaddeus is a bad guy, with a bad past, though he seems to be on the path of reform. Still, when he gets drawn into a case that requires him to go back to his old ways, he does so with gusto. The violence in the book didn’t bother me, it wasn’t worse than you see every night on TV or in the news. What did bother me was the language used in the book. Thaddeus and his opposition are hard men and as such use foul language. Normally I have no problem with salted language, but in this case it felt extreme enough to jar me from the narrative. I don’t know why the language affected me thus, whether it’s related to being pregnant and hormonal or whether I would have minded it as much normally. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s the latter as there were some swear words used, such as the c-word, that I really have a hard time with at any time.

Blaklok is an interesting character; he’s relentless, can take heaps of damage and do some pretty extensive damage as well. However, he seems to be more than just a hard man and a career criminal, he truly seems to not want to hurt the innocent and to protect them from the dangers of demonist cultists and the horrors they might unleash. There are also hints of a mysterious past that I hope we get to see more of in further books. The secondary characters are all bastards, plain and simple, with one exception—Amelia. There are very few likeable characters in the book; Amelia is the only one that I actually liked. She’s an Indagator (Ford’s equivalent of a D.I.) and while she’s rather rigid, I did like her sense of honour and justice. Besides that, she kicks ass and though she disapproves of Blaklok’s methods, she knows when it’s best to shut up and let him get on with it. A practicality I approved of and which she displays to good effect in several other situations.

The world building was a little uneven, in my opinion; while some places are realised in exquisite detail, such as the Repository of Unnatural History and the Cistern, other parts of the Manufactory are rather nebulous. We get the names of the different quarters, and the type of people that live there, but not much else. The world building is more atmospheric than a clear description of our surroundings. Since I haven’t read much steampunk – I think Philippa Ballantine’s Geist comes the closest – the book had me wondering whether it was steampunk or not. There is mention of airships and automatons, but no Victorian (or similar era) setting, so it doesn’t seem to be really steampunky in intent in my opinion. Still, the steampunk elements Ford utilises are not just window dressing. They’re fun and have a function in the story.

Kultus is a good story, but definitely for more mature audiences and those not easily offended. If you’re looking for a raging adventure, full of action and a unique setting, Kultus will definitely be a book you want to try. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed myself a lot, especially in the second half of the book, when things speed up to non-stop action. If there are any further Blaklok novels I’ll be there to check them out.

This book was provided for review by the author.