Reviewed by Kristen Valentine
Waldo Bell has been through a lot. In his debut – The Stars Were Right, which I also wrote about here – Wal was accused of murder, hunted through the fantastical city of Lovat, and forced to confront a crazed cult leader and a gruesome monster created through ritualistic sacrifice. At the beginning of Old Broken Road, it seems like Wal’s circumstances have improved because all he has to deal with is a bum knee from injuries sustained in his previous adventure, a somewhat bitchy client, and a traffic jam.
But it’s not just any traffic jam, just like Waldo Bell is not just any caravan master.
Hired to guide Margaret Shaler’s enormous shipment of produce through the desert, Wal is dismayed when the main road to the city of Lovat is completely blocked due to a political conflict. It’s not the only road, but Wal isn’t keen to take the alternate route of the notoriously dangerous “Broken Road” because he doesn’t want to put his crew–a crew that contains his best friend and business partner, as well as a scholar and priestess he has romantic designs on–at risk. But when Shaler threatens legal action against Wal if he doesn’t get her cargo into Lovat on the double, he finds himself making the first in a series of decisions that he will very much regret.
As soon as the caravan embarks on the Broken Road, things get much worse. From creepy hooded figures lurking in the distance, a horrible, ground-shaking noise of unknown cause that only seems to come on at night, chemical warfare, and a hysterical road priest with stories of a forest of dead bodies in the distance, the caravan is hugely unsettled and starting to turn on each other. But when members of the crew start disappearing and the road priest’s story turns out to be not so hysterical after all, it’s clear that legal action from the Lovat Caravan Authority would be hugely preferable to what awaits Wal on this journey. Forced to finally confront what happened to him below the city of Lovat, Waldo must rely on his crew and his own grisly experience to put a stop to the evil that lurks in the desert.
Though Old Broken Road is very much a sequel, Alexander effortlessly fills in enough backstory so that new readers can keep up, without telling too much. The city of Lovat, which was the setting and main attraction of The Stars Were Right, is only hinted at here. Instead, the novel takes place in the uncertain terrain around the city, which Anderson writes in equally rich and compelling detail. He stays true to the strange world he has created, full of various species, languages, religions, and its unique blend of ancient troubles and modern conflicts. If you haven’t read the first installment, you will want to start there. And if you have, you should pick up Wal’s latest adventure because you’ll enjoy it just as much.