European Review of Speculative Fiction
Author: Alan Baxter
Anyone reading Bound by Alan Baxter would recognize it as an Aussie book five paragraphs in. Oz goes full throttle from the moment you arrive – the animals are there to kill you, the beaches boast waves big enough to drown the Prime Minister and the sun will roast you alive (they have monuments for the hapless many who succumbed – usually water fountains for added irony). That’s Australia and that’s Bound. It starts with a punch and never lets up. Every character is there to kill you, every scene will drown you in tragedy and suspense and the world itself has enough cruelty to burn you down to your skeleton.
Plotwise the book takes the reader down the rabbit hole to a world where magic not only exists but subverts humanity in various ways – we are not only low on the food chain but the use of magic itself tends to remove us from our humanity. It’s an almost Lovecraftian conceit which combined with the Australian landscape which comes alive and tries to murder you translates into a grimdark plunge into sex, madness, combat, betrayal and the occasional murder / snacking on a human. It gets dark from there and then darker still until we’ve got old gods fighting new ones and an incarnation of the Narns that should curdle your blood walking free in the suddenly less kind world.
In a way the actual character and plot are secondary to the world Baxter paints. What he’s introduced us to is a very brutal universe where humanity lives in dangerous ignorance while corrupt powers collide in a bid for power and control. In that world any character can be explored and one suspects Baxter will do so in subsequent books. In such a universe the only sane men are those who fight and whose violent demarcation of their boundaries and limits define their humanity. Bound serves up several examples of that struggle. Both villain and hero alike claw their way through Baxter’s cruel cosmos – failure leads to extinction, survival leads to evolution and perhaps to extinction of a different sort. No one exits the book unscathed neither in body nor soul. Read it at your peril, because the novel has bite and it will like its plagued world, leave some proper scars.