Review by Jamie McNeil
The Tsar’s war with the Romanov usurpers is over, the triumphant Vladimir ordering a purge to weed out supporters and sympathisers of the Romanov cause. Following Tsar Wars Nikolai Dante is the most wanted man in Russia, perhaps even the Imperial Galaxy. He should be keeping a low profile, but instead he marches into a bar loudly announcing, “The name’s Dante! Nikolai Dante! And I can out-drink, out-fight, out-wit and out-love any man, woman or alien in the Empire!” After barely escaping the scramble to collect the bounty on his head, he joins the Church of Skopsky (those self-righteous, self flagellating celibate fanatics from The Great Game) in a hilarious series of escapades and brilliantly funny dialogue.
There are also a number of characters both old and new appearing as Robbie Morrison forges a new path for the man too cool to kill. Or maybe he is, as Jena Makarov wonders, just too dumb to die. Teaming up with the beautiful but dangerously untrustworthy Countess de Winter certainly means a number of people will be trying to prove Dante wrong, forcing him out onto the high seas for an inevitable reunion with pirate mother Katarina and a life of piracy. Dante and his mother’s all-female crew is a recipe for trouble alone, but then there’s also Kraken the chief of the Reivers, the beautiful but deadly Akita and her Black Dragon Yakuza Alliance, plus New Moscow crime boss Papa Yeltsin who all want a word with Dante. Using his head isn’t our boy’s strength, as being led by his heart and what’s between his legs is more Nikolai Dante’s style, ensuring there are plenty of other complications he could do without.
After a long hiatus Simon Fraser is back on art duty with a more cartoony approach, which falters initially, but quickly improves. He is seriously good at the high octane fun and the creative connection he has with Morrison means they can really let loose on the bawdy and ribald adventures of ‘The Return of the Gentleman Thief’ and ‘The Romanov Job’. John Burns helps steer it back towards the more sombre, delivering some really good high seas action and detail. For pirates in a futuristic setting Burns provides a real old school Pirates of Penzance blended with the epic bang for buck Pirates of the Caribbean feel. There is, however a lot of ocean populated by a lot of pirates and, as good as Burns’ art is, he periodically lacks focus, profiles being out of proportion and the art better in some places than it is in others. Morrison’s story is good fun for the first half, but freewheels in a predictable Carry On movie fashion towards the end, Burns’ art also losing the attention with its inconsistency rather than maintaining it.
Hell and High Water is the weakest book of the series so far but there are some important details and characters introduced that are vital to future developments. Thankfully Burns returns to fine form, Simon Fraser hits the ground running and Robbie Morrison knows exactly where he’s going in the following Sword of the Tsar.