When your main character is described as “Six foot ten inches of bone-crushing crushing brutality. And one big ass hammer” it's hard not to think of the tale that might follow as some tawdry, pulpy power-fantasy with as much depth as a shot glass. When inducing such a mindset in a potential reader is by design its hard not to be intrigued.
“Sledge Vs. The Labyrinth” is the gritty, bloody, gore-fest you expect it to be, but the difference between this story and the dime-a-dozen Horror/Gore works shoveled on to self-publishing platforms is that Sledge utterly delights in its premise. It revels in its carnage, practically gallivants through its grime, and even isn't afraid to laugh at its own jokes.
This, of course, will attract a certain type of reader, and the book welcomes them in with open arms – recently severed arms, mind you. However the premise, characters, and story will, just as readily, turn off a few readers. That's where Sledge is a cut above some of the other stories of its ilk. Yes, there is violence, death, and more than a few harrowing scenes that would turn a softer person's stomach, but underneath it all is a neat, compact plot, fun characters, and a sturdiness in the prose that will hold the attention of any avid reader.
Whilst the plot is a simple one – a search for “truth” after a meeting with a former paramour – it is one that does not relent in its action scenes, and doesn't want for intensity. The descriptions of the world it all takes place in is where the prose really shines. From trash-strewn streets, decrepit factories, and tundra there is enough weight in how its fleshed out for you to get a good feel for what the characters are experiencing. With that said, whilst the prose can be a little, for want of a better term, brutalist it doesn't dredge itself down into voyeurism. The plot and prose may revel in the guts and gore, but it never lets you forget just how utterly ruined the world, and the people in it, are.
This is not to say you won't feel a connection to these characters, the main character in particular. Far from it. Whilst protagonist Einarr "Sledge" Laukkanen is described as “A Modern Day Gladiator” he more tends to remind you of a guard dog. Friendly enough, maybe even approachable, but never lets you forget that he has fangs! Again, whilst the character is fun he is also quite a simple creature – but I feel it best to remind you that, again, this is by design. Sledge isn't some character you are meant to impress yourself upon, he's the kind of character you want to see let loose on a room full of scumbags, ripe for a hurting, and spoiling for a beat down. (And “beat down” is putting it mildly) The description of “Gladiator” is profoundly apt, as you will wind up cheering for this beast of a character throughout the whole gory affair.
With that said, the book is not without its flaws. Aspects of the world-building seem a little too tailor made for the character, and can seem a bit like a sky box in some cases. It gives the idea that the world was made for the characters rather than a place that forged the characters. The prose is strong enough to make it easy ignore, but where there are faults in the prose itself it can jolt you out of the experience. Some word choices and descriptors feel like they grind against the tone trying to be established, and they are noticeable. Not enough to make you want to stop altogether, but certainly enough to make you do a double take in places.
However, given that this is the author's first novel, and the first in a proposed series, these can be chalked up to the stumble of a first outing or even something intentional for the stories to come. With the world on these pages, and the characters we get to explore it with, another blood-soaked, action filled romp with Sledge would be more than welcome. It's not a story where you'll find anything too grandly philosophical in meaning, but also not a story you should just shut your brain off and enjoy. It's a brutal story, in a brutal world, and for lovers of gritty, psuedo-noir, pulp inspired violence, this is a treat. The kind of treat where that previously mentioned shot glass fills your stomach like a full course meal...wrapped in razor wire.
“Sledge Vs. The Labyrinth” leaves an impression. One roughly the size and shape of a ten ton sledgehammer, but an impression nonetheless.