Title: Trampling in the Land of Woe (The Patron Saints of Hell: Vol. One)
Author: William Galaini
Publisher: Scarlet River Press
Length: 358 Pages
Category: Steampunk, Fantasy
At a Glance: Trampling in the Land of Woe is a bit like the book author Lewis Carroll might have written if he’d sat down with ink and paper in 1865, and penned a book about Hell instead of Wonderland.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: As World War I rages on Earth, Hephaestion, lauded general and soul mate of Alexander the Great—and now a citizen of Purgatory—embarks on the darkest, most challenging journey of his existence: descending into The Pit of Hell to rescue his king. Chased by Hellbeasts, hunted by Jesuits, and aided by unexpected allies, Hephaestion tests the bounds of loyalty, dedication, and even death as he faces the greatest demon of all: himself. A blend of steampunk and Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, Trampling in the Land of Woe drives through the cobblestoned streets of New Dis, soars above The Pit in airships, and then stumbles down into the terror-ridden rings themselves. Steam-powered trains, zeppelins, and ornithopters zoom by in a mash-up of literary proportions, all to answer one question: What will one man do to understand the meaning of love and truth?
Review: I didn’t have to get much beyond “descending into The Pit of Hell” before I knew this book would be mine. William Galaini’s Trampling in the Land of Woe is, without question, one of the most unique novels I’ve read so far this year. Part historical, part steampunk fantasy, part mythology, and part hero’s journey, the world that Galaini has built here is only a fraction of what makes this such an interesting read. The nodus of this novel is the history of Hephaestion and Alexander the Great, their relationship—one Aristotle himself described as being “one soul abiding in two bodies,”—and how love betrays but friendship and loyalty abide in an unexpected place.
The landscape of this novel is drawn in descriptive prose, and the author finesses the details so well—in Purgatory, in New Dis, and as Hephaestion and an unlikely ally (who evolves as figurative shield and literal guardian of our hero along the way) descend through the various circles of Hell on a mission to rescue Alexander and deliver a message of love and absolution to a lost son. There was some impressive imagination that went into the “Trojan horse” Hephaestion uses as the catalyst for his quest—the deadly sins playing a role in this story, as you might expect from one set in the Underworld—as well as some powerful imagery of the sort of battles Alexander and Hephaestion once planned and executed. The sense of time in this novel is measured by Earth’s first world war, yet is as nebulous and immeasurable as you’d expect from a setting in which clocks and calendars have no meaning or use, especially to someone who’s been dead for centuries–until we’re reminded, once again, of the passage of time in the world of the living.
The burden of having lived a life of violence, and dying, and then remaining in limbo between Heaven and Hell for millennia permeates Hephaestion’s being and makes up a good part of his character; the longing he has to be reunited with the man he’s loved for an eternity drives every single action throughout the story. There is a contrast of this unadulterated emotion, along with a growing friendship and the generosity of a curious group of sidekicks, that contrasts some of the base ugliness of humanity on display every day. This novel makes heroes out of ordinary men and women, and shows us a legendary hero’s vulnerability in turn. And, in the end, we see Hephaestion learn a painful lesson about love and loyalty and honor, reflecting the power of memories and the affairs of the heart to color what was reality. We watch as the last dregs of his narcissistic quest begin to melt away as the respect for his newfound friends grows.
Trampling in the Land of Woe is a bit like the book author Lewis Carroll might have written if he’d sat down with ink and paper in 1865, and penned a book about Hell instead of Wonderland. From airships to a clockwork Hell to ninja, samurai and Jesuit priests, this novel is an entertaining and often touching adventure filled with danger as well as a few lessons about the human condition. This novel isn’t a romance and isn’t a story about being gay or bisexual, nor is there a tidy ending to this novel. In this world, love is a fool’s mission, the fantastical journey of a man who’s died and then spends an eternity holding onto the memory of a man who had been a driving force, in life and in the afterlife, then meeting the crushing blow of reality. But, gaining the boon of friendship for his efforts to navigate a world of woe.
You can buy Trampling in the Land of Woe here: