By Steven R. Boyett
Background: Published in July 2011, Mortality Bridge is a glorious hodgepodge of Dantean, Miltonian, Greek, and Roman mythology centering on the archetypal quest into the underworld to retrieve a lost love. There’s also some Robert Johnson crossroads-deal stuff going on. The whole book was inspired when someone gave Boyett the idea of Charon, the ferryman into Hell, as a cabbie.
What it’s about: Niko is a rock star who sold his soul to a demon (Phil) for, you guessed it, success. Turns out the woman he falls in love with is part of the deal because his soul is tied to hers, and when she dies and is taken to Hell, he decides to make an unthinkable journey to get her back.
He’s ferried into the underworld by a plucky cab-driver and there must cross the various levels of Hell, wading through a sea of deformed and tortured dead and demons who want to fillet him. Some of the most gruesome stuff you can imagine appears here, from impalement to being crushed under giant rocks to having your spine bent back so your head is shoved up your own butt.
When at last he makes it to the Head Office, as it were, Niko must play the role of Orpheus and win over the devil with his epic guitar-playing (with a little help from a certain Blues legend). Except winning his love’s soul is only half the battle: remember, once you’re all the way in, you’ve still got to get back out, and the trick (as Lot’s wife knows only too well) is not to look back.
Why it will keep you up at night: I did a post about Dantean Hell-based fiction (“Fiction al Dante“) and asked if anyone had read literature with these themes. Well, Mortality Bridge is the motherload. Beautiful, vivid descriptions emerge from the well-executed prose, and yes, I did just connect “beautiful” with Hell. Perhaps not the right word, but Boyett has such finesse in his langauge that you feel like you’re right there with Niko traveling the underworld, and the strange, unmappable domain, though horrifying, is also awe-inspiring.
Of course, this means the menagerie of grotesqueries feel very real as you read. Boyett’s mind must be a deliciously haunted landscape, for his version of Hell is not for the faint of heart. Even so, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a captivating read who has even the slightest interest in mythology. It really is one Hell of a ride.
(I thoroughly apologize for that last pun. Please still read the book.)