Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales Of Dorgo The Dowser by Joe Bonadonna, iUniverse.com, h/c, £19.95/p/b, £13.95/Kindle £8.04, Website
Reviewed by David Brzeski
Joe Bonadonna is one of the growing number of authors whose work I have been meaning to get around to for quite some time. This particular book has been available since the beginning of 2011.
At first sight, it’s classic sword and sorcery, set on a world populated by fighting men, merchants, wizards and a multitude of mythical, non-mythical and just plain made-up beasts. There’s a difference, though, in the style of the storytelling. It’s a first person narrative, executed very much in the style of the hard-boiled private eye genre. I was reminded of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar tales, crossed with Chandler’s Philip Marlowe—sort of fantasy-noir. Dorgo Mikawber, himself, is roughly the equivalent of a private detective on this world, as he is a licensed dowser (complete with dowsing rod) of odylic (magical) energy, employed to deal with crimes of a supernatural nature.
In the title story, ‘Mad Shadows’, he is employed to solve the case of the mysterious shadows that beset the city of Valdar by night, eating all the gold they encounter and killing any who get in their way.
Next is ‘The Secret of Andaro’s Daughter’, in which a friend entrusts him with a map for safekeeping, just in case anything happens to him. Of course, something does indeed happen to him and Dorgo finds himself involved in a case of intrigue and deceit worthy of Raymond Chandler, except with added magic.
In ‘The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum’, a pair of villainous brothers learn that murdering a witch, to steal her moonstones is not the wisest of plans.
The witch-related problems continue in ‘The Man Who Loved Puppets’, in which we are also introduced to Dorgo’s one true love, Cerisa Yonsa. Children are falling comatose and the only link appears to be the dolls they had all been given.
I noticed as I worked my way through the stories that the Chandler influence gradually lessened. I felt some disappointment at this, but the author mentions various other influences in his afterword and they gradually begin to make themselves increasingly apparent.
We leave the mean streets of Valdar for a foray into the lost city genre next. ‘In the Vale of the Black Diamond’, Dorgo’s childhood friend and fellow ex-member of the Wandering Swords: the 7th mercenary legion, Yozinda Milio Andovo, recruits him on a mission to find the mysterious black diamond—a shard of the meteor which originally formed the “Forbidden Valley”, when it fell to earth millennia before. On the way, they encounter myriad strange creatures and an odd race of skeletal looking people. Naturally, there’s also a mad wizard.
After their adventure in the Forbidden Valley, Yozinda and Dorgo return to her father’s village, Okalin, only to find themselves firmly in Universal Monster Movie territory. In the final story of this volume, ‘Blood on the Moon’, an astronomical quirk, which occurs once every nine years in Dorgo’s world, has caused the moon to remain full for two weeks. Animals and people are being ripped apart by something wild and violent. The author even adapts a well-known piece of verse from the movies to fit his needs.
This is an entertaining well-written collection. While each individual story works as a standalone, they all follow on from, and reference the earlier tales in a way that makes them work together as a complete novel. I feel sure we’ll eventually see more of the adventures of Dorgo the Dowser.