The story so far: Gabriel is a man who suffered the loss of his wife and child at the hands of Temple, a demon assassin. Since then, Gabriel and Temple have been locked in a centuries-long game of tag wherein Temple arrives somewhere to do a job and Gabriel follows to try to stop him. The latter is badly scarred, courtesy of Temple, and whenever their proximity is too close, those scars remember their source and begin to ache.
Now it's World War II and the chase continues. This time British soldier Jack Sykes is a part of the game as well. Taken prisoner by the Japanese and sent to a work camp, Sykes has been given a secret by a dying comrade. A man with a snake in his eye has passed a message onto Davey and Davey has hidden this message in the grave of fellow soldier Mad Melloy, a message meant for Sykes. So Sykes, with the help of Gabriel, must escape their prison camp and get to Melloy's grave to retrieve the message, before Temple reaches them. It's a near-impossible task and never once is Sykes assured of their victory.
That's about it. I mean, it's only 65 pages, so how much plot did you expect? But, man, does Lebbon pack this tiny book with a ton of action. Lebbon has proven to me to be about a 70/30 gamble, in favor of. I started off with his novel "Desolation," which I absolutely loved, then read the first two books in the assassin series ("Dead Man's Hand" and "Pieces of Hate," Necessary Evil Press, 2004 and 2005 respectively), of which A Whisper of Southern Lights
is the third, and loved those as well. Then I read everything else I could get my hands on. For the most part, Lebbon is always amazing, with only a dud or two scattered around. A Whisper of Southern Lights
is not a dud, however. Not even close.
Lebbon uses his skills as a writer to put you smack dab in that camp, that sewage line, that jungle with Sykes and Gabriel as they make their way to the secret which, we're told, will affect all of humanity.
"They continued through the night. They moved slower than during the day, and though the heat was not as bad there were what felt like a million mosquitoes bugging them, feeding on their sweat and the blood on Gabriel's face. He felt them tickling the inside of his hollowed eye socket. Sykes kept up well, though Gabriel suspected they would have to rest when dawn arrived.
"Temple was on their trail. He had discovered their escape and now he was following, using whatever strange means he had to track them up through Malaya and into the heart of the jungle. Gabriel knew that he had to prepare to take on the demon yet again, and a collage of images kept flooding his mind's eye, visions of Temple in dozens of the fights they had been through -- screaming, shouting, laughing. Always laughing. Virtually every time they met Temple would get away, and Gabriel would be left with another scar. Nothing was ever resolved. There was no end, and a resolution to this quest felt as distant as ever."
Something I've always admired about Lebbon, and it applies particularly to the assassin books, is that no matter the locale or time period, he always manages to write about it as if he's been there and is reporting all his sensory details--and that is the mark of a great writer, isn't it? But we also know not everyone is quite as adept at that particular skill. Some are good plotters, some create characters we can believe in, some are wildly imaginative, but not many are able to tell you "This is the truth of this situation, this is what it smells like, this is what you'll hear in the background, this is how the air hangs." But Lebbon almost always manages to do this, and that's the mark of a story you'll remember, a story that has a true effect on you because it's done what all great stories should: transported you for that small amount of time out of your everyday world and into a place where anything can happen. Lebbon's work is, more often than not, that escape readers long for. And A Whisper of Southern Lights
is just more proof that he's an author worth paying attention to.
A Whisper of Southern Lights
is available from the publisher at Necessary Evil Press