Rockman: The Dark Rider (book 3 of 3) by Mark Pickvet (book review)

December 16, 2021 | By | Reply More

‘Rockman: The Dark Rider’ is a direct sequel to ‘Rockman: The Battle’ in Mark Pickvet’s post-apocalypse fantasy series. The ‘Rockman’ books were published by Port Town Publishing but, unfortunately, their website is no longer reachable and this reviewer assumes they were a small press arrangement. However, some Internet information indicates that the first three volumes, ‘The Beginning’, ‘The Battle’ and ‘The Dark Rider’, may have been compiled into a single volume entitled ‘Rockman: Book 1: The Dark Rider’ in 2013 with the author’s name changed to Marcus Pick and with a recommended retail price of £39.95.

In ‘The Beginning’, we were introduced to Pickvet’s post-apocalypse world of regressed primitive societies populated by both humans and various strains of humanity who have evolved into trolls, elves and dwarves. ‘The Dark Rider’ picks up directly from the previous book with Drake and Ariel rebuilding their settlement after the final battle in that book. This book continues the story to a natural conclusion dealing with the titular antagonist.

Joining him are the cyborg Ariel and the titular Rockman. ‘The Battle’ also continues the stories of the antagonistic human cultures as well as John Cavanaugh the military cyborg and the Dark Rider who continues his psychotic rampage to kill anything he can lay his lance to.

The second book told how the energy being Maru managed to influence the Dark Rider to attack various settlements. The climactic battle described in the second book deals with Drake and Ariel dealing with the warlord Garth. Meanwhile, Maru has been using the Dark Rider to annihilate various communities including the village of Tam last seen floating down the river towards Ariel’s village. At the start of the third volume, Tam finds her way here and immediately starts to fall for Drake. This is a welcome development as romance has not featured majorly in the story so far.

Maru’s motivation for wiping out the human communities is not really clear. He seems to intend to rule the planet by wiping out anyone who doesn’t serve him. His background is never explored, however, so Maru is just presented as cut from evil whole cloth without nuance or insight. Anyway Drake, Ariel and the others become aware of the Dark Rider’s attacks and realise it is only a matter of time before they are attacked. So they hatch a plan to defeat the Dark Rider by luring him into a trap on their home ground. Hopefully, Drake can contact Rockman in time to involve him as only Rockman has the might needed to actually defeat the Dark Rider.

Pleasingly, ‘The Dark Rider’ ties up the majority of loose ends from the two previous books. The various stories all collide quite early in the volume so that we can start to see the relationships develop between the disparate characters. Notably the romance between Drake and Tam brings new levels to the narrative. Overall, this deepens the storytelling and improves the reader’s experience.

Alas, the quotations at the beginning of each chapter continue although the reader should be used to this by now. The grammatical errors and spelling mistakes which have previously been few and far between are suddenly prolific. For example, the verb ‘whisper’ is consistently spelt `Wisper’ complete with capitalisation throughout the volume. I suspect that global replacement took place to ensure the capitalisation of the name `Wisp’ but this is quite jarring the four or five times it comes up. Unfortunately, this is not the limit to the spelling issues and there is a scattershot of mistakes elsewhere as well.

I have previously noted that it seems rather like Pickvet wrote one book and the whole thing was split into three volumes not by narrative but simply by page count. Knowing as I now do that all three books have been assembled into one whole volume increases my conviction. However, in this book, most of the stories seemed to be resolved in a climax with both genuine risk and satisfactorily involving all the protagonists which feels like a fine pay off after reading this far. However, there are one or two loose ends left dangling which are presumably picked up in the further writing. Nonetheless, ‘The Dark Rider’ feels like it reaches a good point to at least pause the story and allow Drake, Ariel, Rockman and all the others a period of peace.

Overall, I will admit to having enjoyed Pickvet’s first trilogy. It is not without its drawbacks as I would happily lose the quotes at the beginning of each chapter and might expand the back story a bit at the start as the setting takes quite a bit to set up. But when the reader gets used to Pickvet’s setting, it becomes an enjoyable fantasy world populated with likeable characters. Indeed, Pickvet has the happy knack of describing characters economically but evocatively and this keeps the narrative moving along at a pleasant pace.

If the reader has read through ‘Rockman: The Beginning’ and ‘Rockman: The Battle’, then I am happy to recommend ‘The Dark Rider’. After all, if you can invest through the first confusing volume and put up with the curious combination of pretentious quotations at the beginning of each chapter with the somewhat unprofessional editing then you are not going to struggle with the third volume. But the question is really do I recommend starting at ‘The Beginning’ and progressing here? Well, that depends if the reader is looking for something a bit different and in many respects refreshing as there is an interesting setting and a good story here. But if the reader doesn’t want to have to work hard to truly enjoy the text and doesn’t wish to peer through the obfuscation then I cannot really recommend picking up the series. A mixed bag to be sure.

Dave Corby

December 2021

(pub: Port Town Publishing, 2005. 168 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.95 (US). ISBN: 1-59466-079-4)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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