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Fallen Land

Fiction | Novel
288 pages
5.61” x 8.46” Hardcover
Also available in ebook, paperback, and audio formats
ISBN 978-1250077974
First Edition
Review Copy: Paperback ARC
St. Martin’s Press
New York City, New York, USA
Available HERE
Review by Eric Shonkwiler

Taylor Brown’s Fallen Land is a story straight out of some of America’s darkest days. Set in the latter part of the Civil War, Fallen Land follows Callum, a young gunslinger working with a band of marauders, and Ava, the girl he rescues from the clutches of one of his comrades, only to have her fall into worse hands. Luckily, Callum is fast on his feet and even quicker with a revolver, and Ava and he are able to slip their literal and metaphorical nooses with the aid of Reiver, the best damn horse you ever saw. Shaking out with all their good fortune, though, is a healthy dose of the bad; with a bounty out on Callum’s head, his former friends are determined to ride him down, leaving Ava and him no choice but to head straight for the gaping maw that is Sherman’s March to the Sea, their only hope of protection.

Brown’s story and language often read like a scramble of some of Cormac McCarthy’s choicest novels: there’s a smattering of his Outer Dark, and an even more generous helping of Blood Meridian. The similarities beg to be addressed. This isn’t to say that Brown is aping him, though, as Fallen Land sounds very much like an author staking his claim in hard territory. There are some glorious passages here, and an eerie similarity to the post-apocalypse of McCarthy’s imagining in The Road. Take for instance Callum’s and Ava’s first sight of Atlanta:

Every last thing ablaze save a single mountain of bald stone upon which great mirrored flames reeled and surged, the city below it thrust heavenward in snarling fury, in leaping spires and spits of flame […]

Brown goes on to detail meticulously and organically, almost lovingly, the historical burning of Atlanta. It is here, and in the rendering of his protagonists, that the author most differs from his obvious forebear. These people—even some of the more evil ones—clearly have a heart. This is reflected in the territory through which Callum and Ava ride:

Now and again through the night they caught sight of the distant inferno, and that bright city, however flame-ridden and damned, seemed only to darken the lonesome outlands before them.

This is a glimpse into the side of humanity that McCarthy seldom shows, and it’s refreshing to see human characters—people riddled with doubt—travel his terrain. Where McCarthy and others like him reel in their prose, Brown lets it flow on, and we are better off for that.

While the narrative itself never throws the reader for any loops, this isn’t a story that relies on trickery or sleight of hand. It’s a straightforward book, well-toned and paced, equipped with all the necessaries. Rarely does Brown let his artistry dip. Our antagonist is appropriately vile and ruthless—suited to the times—and all around the narrative we see depravities, the ends of depravities. Thankfully for the reader and our protagonists, despite this macho, testosterone-skewed world, Brown has made sure that Ava does more than sit by—She’s every bit as strong as Callum, and they fight for their lives in equal shares.

The shelves are crowded with those like Taylor Brown, but he is one of the few who succeeds in this style and with this familiar sort of tale. Violent and beautiful, Fallen Land stands shoulder to shoulder with today’s literary giants.

Eric Shonkwiler is the author of the novel, Above All Men, chosen as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, and the Luminaire Award for Best Prose-winning short story and novella collection, Moon Up, Past Full. His second novel, 8th Street Power & Light, is forthcoming from MG Press in fall 2016.

• This book was sent to Alternating Current from the publisher at the request of the reviewer, who expressed interest in reviewing the book after having a reading event with the author. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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