Imperial Blackby Andrew Cartmel
Dante is hired to track down the source of the notorious psycho-toxic Imperial Black vodka. His quest takes him from casino to insane asylum to the bleak tundra along the way discovering the secret ingredient of Imperial Black: psychedelic mushrooms growing on the site of an ancient nuclear explosion. He also discovers that he is a pawn in a plot to control the populace using the psycho-toxins in the vodka.
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'Imperial Black' features the further exploits of Russian rogue and adventurer Nikolai Dante. I think the best way I could describe Dante for those who have not read his tales is being a cross between the swashbuckling adventurism of Errol Flynn and the wise-cracking Bruce Willis of the 'Die Hard' films. Dante is of the noble Romanov family but he's only a half brother and has renounced his family's name. Nikolai's body is embedded with cybernetic weapons but his most interesting feature may be his weapon crest. The weapon crest is also embedded inside his body and is an intelligent onboard computer with a personality all her... or its own. The pair often fight like an old married couple. The story begins sometime after Dante's forces at the town/stronghold of Rudinshtein were routed by the overwhelming forces of the Tsar. The Imperial Black, the Tsar's elite soldier led the route along with their sadistic leader General Ivanov. Dante and his co-forts Flintlock and the disgusting Spatchcock escape the fray and end up as fugitives with prices on their heads. While hiding out under assumed names at a floating island brother, they are attacked by a mysterious group of Ninja and are eventually captured. They are brought before a group calling themselves the Parliament of Shadows led by Lord Zhukov who is leading a rebellion to overthrow the Tsar. Zhukov wants Dante to travel to the Himalayas to find the legendary Forbidden Citadel that is supposed to hide a powerful weapon, hidden by the Romanov family, than can be used against the Tsar. Leading them will be the beautiful female ninja Mai Tsai who has the ability to read Dante's mind because of his weapon crest...which leads to several slaps to his face due to inappropriate thoughts. Little do they know, however, that the Tsar is also seeking the Forbidden Citadel and sends Ivanov and his Imperial Black troops in pursuit of the prize. But Dante will have an even more sinister threat to worry about. Lord Zhukov may not quite be exactly what he seems. 'Imperial Black' is a fantastic adventure. The trio of Dante, Flintlock and Spatchcock are bawdy, brawling, drinking buddies...very much similar to Robin Hood and his Merrymen of film. The intelligent weapon crest lightens things up even more as she often takes Dante down a couple of notches with biting sarcasm. The sadistic Ivanov is a masochist and a bit two dimensional character wise, but he's still the kind of nasty villain you expect in a story like this. Thoroughly enjoyed this book! Reviewed by Tim Janson