A few weeks ago a musty book store aisle produced Craig Sargent's "The Last Ranger" series to me. I bought book two of the series called "Savage Stronghold" and really enjoyed it, evident in my earlier blog review here on Paperback Warrior. The series is firmly in the post apocalyptic vein where a hero named Stone wanders the wasteland in search for his missing sister April. "Savage Stronghold" revealed events that happened in the first book and the overall continuity of the series. Those interesting flashbacks and the quality of the book prompted me to search out the rest of the series.
"The Last Ranger" was published in 1986 through Popular Library. As I mentioned in my review of "Savage Stronghold" this series came at the height of "Cold War" hysteria of the 80s. Films like "Mad Max", "Road Warrior" and "Red Dawn" pushed the envelope and allowed our nuclear fears exposure through all sorts of media ranging from movies to books. Sargent's "Last Ranger" series is stereotypical in its vivid portrait of scorched desert, roving bandits and the obligatory "good versus evil" theatrics that catapulted the western formula for a century or more.
The first third of this book centers around Major Clayton Stone, the father of series hero Martin Stone. Sargent tells us about Clayton's early life and his exploits as an Army Ranger in Vietnam. Clayton is a mountain of a man, a war hero time and time again and master of survival and its many facets. In fear of the looming Soviet threat he creates an enormous fallout shelter inside of a Colorado mountain range, supplying it with decades of power, food, water and every type of military styled weapon known to man.
Martin Stone is the exact opposite of his father. Martin marches in peace rallies, dates pretty girls and is captain of his school's swim team. Basically Martin Stone is the anti-hero. The two often disagree on a variety of topics and in 1989 come to blows after Clayton forces the family into the Colorado shelter before the Soviets bomb us into the stone ages. Father knows best indeed.
The family live in the fallout shelter for about a decade and Clayton teaches his son the tactics to stay alive. For years the two train in martial arts, explosives, various shooting styles and hundreds of different weapons from turret styled machine guns to revolvers and rifles. Clayton turns his son into "Rambo" while mom and sister watch.
About the halfway point we see Clayton die of a heart attack. Martin...now simply called Stone...dismisses years of training and decides to leave the shelter with his sister and mother. Using an RV and carrying only a shotgun the trio journey into the desert where they are mauled by...biker gangs! Apparently the 80s formula of apocalypse imposes that the creator is obligated to make the most vial criminal element ride a motorcycle. Thus the enemy of Stone is a moto-psycho group called Hell's Guardians. They kill his mom, kidnap his sister April and leave our hero broken and battered in the desert sand.
The last third of the book begins with Stone being rescued by Native Americans. Apparently they have returned to the ways of the land, hunting animals and worshiping Earth spirits. In a scene taken right out of "Man Called Horse" Stone is hefted up on hooks through his chest and suspended in mid air for the night. This painful journey into the spirit world deems Stone a true warrior. He beds a beautiful tribe chick and then returns to his shelter to arm himself for war; a motorcycle with a .50 caliber machine gun turret on handlebars and enough guns and ammo to make "Borderlands" seem peaceful.
Storm rides into Denver looking for Hell's Guardians. He kills a gang member in a strange initiation to infiltrate the gang in hopes of rescuing April. He gets tossed into a barbaric Olympics contest where he has to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth to avoid death and win a trophy ("Running Man" anyone?) From there we see Stone exposed, captured, beaten and then escaping in an action packed showdown with the bikers. Stone doesn't find April and heads to southern Colorado for book two, "Savage Stronghold".
I thought this was a decent first entry in the series. Clayton's introduction at the beginning was necessary to illustrate how well Stone is trained for the aftermath of nuclear war. I felt the Native American section was really unnecessary and really slowed the pace to a painful crawl. Some of the characters presented here rear their heads in book two (and probably subsequent books I imagine). I am looking forward to the third book, "Madman's Mansion" and have a few more doomsday novels to present to you as well. Stay tuned.