The last of an ancient order of Jewish mystics capable of extraplanar travel, The Merkabah Rider roams the demon haunted American West of 1879 in search of the renegade teacher who betrayed his enclave. But as the trail grows fresher, shadows gather, and The Hour Of The Incursion draws near... Four novella episodes in one book.
In a town hungry for blood, the Rider encounters a cult of Molech worshippers bent on human sacrifice('The Blood Libel'). A murderous, possessed gunman descends upon a mountain town, and only the Rider stands in his way ('Hell's Hired Gun'). A powerful ju ju man with powers rivalling the Rider's own holds a fledgling Mexican boomtown in his sway ('The Dust Devils'). Finally the Rider faces the Queen of Demons and a bordello full of antedelluvian succubi ('The Nightjar Women').
Synopsis sourced from the authors site (http://emerdelac.wordpress.com/)
Reviewing books for FBR has given me the opportunity to read books that I normally wouldn't, and to be honest I never thought that I would be reading fantasy stories about a Jewish mystic chasing down his former mentor in the Wild West. While the "Weird Western" genre was somewhat popularised a number of years ago by Robert E. Howard, the genre has remained largely untapped, but with the incorporation of Jewish religion into Wild West culture, Ed Erdelac has created a story that is fresh, original, and fun to read.
Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter is split up into four independent episodes which tell the story of The Rider, a Jewish mystic and gunslinger who is able to leave his physical body and traverse the Merkabah plane in order to achieve his objectives. While the overall story has The Rider hot on the trail of the mentor who betrayed his enclave, each episode is its own self contained story as The Rider deals with all the problems and issues arising from the local populous. These stories are quite short but each one introduces a problem, some new ideas, and slowly build towards a well planned action sequence that uses the new ideas to resolve the problem.
Despite being slightly 'formulaic', I like what Erdelac has done here - it allows for a steady stream of world building and back story to filter through while exposing the reader to some intense action sequences on a periodic basis. The short, sharp, and punchy episodes create the illusion of a fast pace story, a necessary illusion given how much the steep learning curve slows the pace of the story. The problem for me, aside from the action sequences and the excellent fourth episode, was that I couldn't maintain my interest in the story during the early stages of each episode. This problem was exacerbated by my lack of knowledge in Jewish mysticism, making the learning curve very steep and impacting my ability to connect and become fully immersed in the story. It is a hard slog to start with but if you are willing to persist, there are more than enough rewards to br reaped towards the end.
The characters for the most part have been well crafted, with the mysterious Rider slowly being unmasked through each episode and with each supporting character fulfilling a specific purpose that will either aid or hinder The Rider on his journey. It is very efficient character building, there is very little waste to be found and this allows the characters to stand out a little more than usual and own the story. I quite liked The Rider, I found it fascinating how his motivations were never entirely clear and would often waver despite being a devout religious man. He is honest and courageous, shows all of the qualities that we come to expect from a hero, but he is also a very practical man and will often try to limit his heroic actions to ones that will provide some benefit to him in his mission. What I think is missing here is a companion, someone who will tease out the finer complexities from The Rider, someone who will challenge rider from episode to episode, someone who will provide some contrast to the very serious and very driven Rider.
Erdelac's writing here is very clean, very stylish, and very elegant. He has an obvious mastery of the English language and employs it to good use. He has paced his story very well, his writing is easy to read despite all the complex Jewish terminology, and his action scenes are up with some of the best I have read.
Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter is a very good book. While the early episodes did not appeal to me very much, they did a lot of hard work establishing the foundations for the overall story and exposing the reader to Jewish culture. The more I read, the more comfortable I became with the concepts being used here, and with Erdelac really hitting his stride in the last episode it gives me hope that the future books in the series will be much better from start to finish. If you are into Westerns or if you are into trying new things, then you will definitely get something out of this book.
Review by Ryan Lawler
Edward M. Erdelac is the author of nine novels, including the acclaimed Lovecraftian/weird western series Merkabah Rider and Andersonville. His fiction has appeared in dozens of anthologies and periodicals including most rece [...]
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