January 20, 2015

Lost and Confound: a review of Brian Keene's "The Lost Level"

The Lost Level
by Brian Keene
Apex Book Company (2015)
186 pages
ISBN: 9781937009106

Available on Amazon.com

Brian Keene's brand of horror is the kind that will rip your heart out and feed it to you. But he's got a knack for delving outside strictly horrific fiction, especially the zombies that made him famous, for more rollicking fare. His collaboration with Nick Mamatas on The Damned Highway would be a good example of that. So I was curious how he'd pull of some pulpy fantasy adventure.

Aaron Pace finds himself trapped in a distinctly alien land after getting a little too complacent with his self-taught dabbling in the occult. Oh, sure. Opening portals into alternative dimensions is fun and games at first, but all it takes is one brain fart and suddenly you wind up in the one universe that doesn't have an exit. And it's not like he wasn't warned. The books he read referred to it as The Lost Level, and anyone unfortunate enough to cross that threshold has never returned. So Aaron's only hope of seeing home again is to be the first jabrone to find a way back.

A little bit Edgar Rice Burroughs, a little bit David Gerrold, Jules Verne, a little bit Lovecraft, yeah-yeah-yeah. There's a heaping bowlful of winks and nods to what's come before, but this book is all Keene. Throw a blue-collar stiff with an unsettling acumen in the occult and fling him into a cosmic meatgrinder, and you've pretty much got a Brian Keene cult classic in the making.

Now, while the book never felt it reinvented the wheel, it remained true to the genre, and lured it off the beaten path just enough that Keene's indelible voice rings through, kinda like a Springsteen song echoes through the halls of a sanitarium.

It's pretty simple, really. If you're already a fan of Keene's work, there's no question as to whether or not you should read this. If you've yet to sample the man's writing, either because he hasn't been on your literary radar or you've been squeamish about reading all that horror fiction, then you've got a great gateway drug here in the form of The Lost Level.


  1. Dead Sea is the only book of his I've read before, and I loved it. I wonder if I would like this one as much.