Hiero's Journey - Sterling E. Lanier 2.5 stars

I really wanted to give this book a higher rating. There’s a lot here to love and Lanier has a very fertile imagination: Psychic Canadian warrior-priest? Check; also psychic Moose destrier? Check; psychic mutant bear pal and assorted demi-human mutant creatures? Check; travelogue through post-apocalyptic North America? Check. It's like the coolest campaign of Gamma World ever that you never got to play as a kid. I fondly recall seeing the far-out Darrell K. Sweet cover on this book during nearly every trip I took to the library as a kid. I always looked at it wistfully, wanting to dive into an adventure so obviously cool, but my own snobbishness kept me away. Well, I finally broke down and took the plunge.

Unfortunately it appears that some of my snobbishness may have been justified. The first part of the book carried me along with the narrative at a fairly quick pace and despite the somewhat clunky prose and more! Exclamation! Marks! than you! can shake! a stick! at!!!! (maybe William Shatner should read the audio version) I was certainly entertained. Somewhere around ¾ of the way through, though, I completely ran out of steam and aside from a few pages here and there I left the book unread for months. I really wanted to finish this book, though, and it did improve somewhat towards the end.

Lanier’s post-apocalyptic North America has some interesting locales: from the expansive pine forests of the north to the miasmic swamps and irradiated buried cities of the south, all of them populated by the mutated descendants of our modern wildlife as well as the ‘Leemutes’, or semi-intelligent human-animal hybrids, most of which are under the control of the nefarious Unclean Brotherhood. Amongst this colourful background Lanier gives us many memorable scenes, especially Hiero's psychic battle with the Dweller in the Mist, his various confrontations with the pompous leaders of the Unclean, and the final confrontation with a living hive-mind fungal-slime. I’m a bit of a sucker for stories with PSI-elements as well, so I enjoyed the psychic aspects of the book: whether it was Hiero’s scrying of the future with the aid of his trusty bag of symbols, his inner battles with other intelligences, or the possession of an animal’s eyes to see the wider landscape.

That being said, the prose really didn’t do the story any favours and despite the intriguing aspects of Lanier’s story I found myself slowed down at many points in the narrative and moving on to other things from time to time, so it took me quite awhile to finish this. Hiero is also a very simplistic hero (the pun certainly isn’t my fault) who is basically almost always right, his enemies always wrong…there’s very little room for any grey in this world. My biggest stumbling blocks, though, were the stilted prose mentioned above and the superfluous romance subplot that added nothing to the story and was cringe-inducing in its puerility and simplicity. Overall there is a lot of awesome here, buried in bad prose and simplistic plotting.