[review by Jay Paulin of Ink’d Well Comics]
The decision to write an ongoing series is a gutsy one. The creator must feel confident in his or her ability to craft a believable world filled with believable characters; his or her ability to thread a titillating story that grips the reader and has them clamoring for more and, of course, his or her ability to run the grueling gauntlet required to write story after story after . . .
This is what makes Black Womb (Engen Books, 2007), the inaugural book in the eponymous, thriller series, so impressive. Within the first few chapters, we are introduced to evil corporations, powerful foes and people with mysterious identities/pasts. These are archetypes, true, but powerful ones. When placed in a (formerly) quiet, mid-sized town and faced by a group of everyday teens, it becomes relatable – even when the bodies start to pile after a number of impressively written action sequences. In a way, this novel reminded me of the 2005 film, Brick, in that the teens dominate and the adults are secondary. I’ll expand on this point later.
The core characters in the story are Alexander ‘Xander’ Drew — one of the aforementioned everyday teens – and school friends Mike Harris, Cathy Kennessy and Sara Johnson. The latter three are more complimentary at this point, and rightly so. Xander’s journey in this novel is the real draw and author Matthew LeDrew pulls few punches with his lead.
When a fellow student is slashed apart in the street, everyone wonders ‘why?’ and ‘who’s next?’ The answers to those questions cannot come quick enough as the violence zeroes in on the four friends. The search leads them on a quest that becomes very personal – more personal than Xander would’ve liked.
That leads to one of the strongest, but also weakest, parts of the story. Black Womb handles tension, pace and the sensation of fear exceptionally well. The characters? Not so much. What would you do when a merciless, walking weapon lurks in the shadows and slays people within your age group? Gather under one roof, of course! The adults also don’t seem to play too much of a role, which is unfortunately because the world otherwise is fleshed-out and realistic.
The questionable decisions are balanced out by three-dimensionality and full-bodied voices: it is easy to envision each character and location while reading the book, a trait shared by seemingly all of Engen Books’ titles.
Other than the minor quibbles, Black Womb did what all great series openers should: it laid down a strong foundation for the future and provided an entertaining read on its own. 4/5