Reviwed by Johnny Butane
Written by Christopher Golden & Mike Mignola
Published by Spectra/Bantam Dell
Christopher Golden, as an author, is a hard man to pin down into one particular genre. Throughout his relatively short career he’s done outright horror (The Shadow Saga), fantasy (Strangewood), even young adult (the Prowlers series, to name but one). Because of this versatility he’s an author that will either continue to surprise you or leave you off guard, expecting anything.
His collaboration with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has apparently brought out the darkest sides of both men as Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (the book’s full title) is one of the most haunting, exciting, and bleakest tomes either creator has done to date. And I loved every minute of it.
When we first meet the title character, Henry Baltimore, he’s just another soldier fighting in the trenches of World War I. While trying to cross the dead zone one night, attempting to take their enemies by surprise, he and his squad are beset with gunfire and explosions. Most are killed, the rest left for dead.
Henry awakens to find strange bat-like creatures feasting on the dead. When one of them attempts to make Henry its next meal, however, he finds the strength to fight back and with one fell swoop dooms the entire world.
The rest of the story is told from the perspective of three men who are called upon by Baltimore (now a Lord) to meet at a specific location one night, though no one is told why. The three men are strangers to one another, but each has had his time by Baltimore’s side, and increasingly we get an idea of just what the former soldier has become and why these three men believe him to be something more of legend now than actual fact, despite having all known him personally.
All of these men believe in Baltimore and his cause because of what they, personally, had gone through shortly before meeting him for the first time. Each of them has had their own encounters with something outside of reality, from giant marionettes to demonic bears, and their stories are as fantastical as they come, though told completely straight and therefore made that much more terrifying. The greatest thing about a collaboration like this is that both Mignola and Golden are very well versed in folklore and mythology so they’re both able to bring amazing and horrifying tales.
Though allusions are made to it throughout, and the ending brings them all to a very strange head, the connection to the Hans Christian Anderson poem “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is loose at first. Every chapter opens with a snippet from the poem, and it’s really up to the reader to decipher how it fits in with the overall story.
If it weren’t for that overarching narrative, this could almost be considered an anthology novel as each man is about as different from the other as he can get, so each relates his story differently. But it’s all to paint a more sweeping picture of a world that has been nearly destroyed by a debilitating plague, a plague that turns normal men and women into monsters that cannot stand daylight and crave blood. Baltimore takes place in an alternate reality the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
Mignola’s illustrations are also fantastic and help make that world even more realistic. They’re the sort of minimalist, heavy-shadowed work any reader of Hellboy is familiar with, but somehow it all seems that much darker in Baltimore. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken him to work out the illustrations that show up on nearly every page of this novel, but rest assured none of it feels rushed in any way. Indeed, this is some of Mignola’s most evocative work to date, which only adds to the overall tone of Baltimore.
If I had any complaint about the book it is that after the first few stories the pacing seems to get a bit formulaic. One man will tell his story about meeting Baltimore, we come back to the three of them at the table, then the same man will tell of what supernatural oddity happened to him that made him believe in Baltimore so much. Though you forget about it while reading the stories themselves, it’s too bad you see it coming after a while.
That being said, though, there’s really nothing not to enjoy about Baltimore unless tales of monsters, heroes and a pre-technology, post-apocalyptic world do nothing for you. If that is the case, I feel very sorry for you. If it sounds interesting, though, be sure to seek out Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Solider and the Vampire when its out on shelves this August 28th, and check out the video interview done by Bantam Dell with the books creators, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, below!
4 1/2 out of 5
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