Book review: King of the Road by R. S. Belcher

Two books in one!  Werewolves, killer clowns, ancient alchemy and so much more!  And no Elvis in sight…  The second installment of the Brotherhood of the Wheel series is not as strong as the first one.  With two completely separate stories, it feels disjointed, and the addition of a host of new monsters makes it more “fantasy” and less “urban”.  The grittiness is largely gone, replaced by too much action for my own taste.  It’s been a fun read, but I personally didn’t find it as gripping as the first book.

Someone has been ambushing and killing the members of Heck’s motorcycle club.  Heck suspects Cherokee Mike, a disgraced member who wants to take over the club and change it from a monster-hunting outfit to a drug dealership.  However, Mike convinces Heck that it isn’t him, and he plants evidence that the attackers are actually the members of another club, which is popular with werewolves and other supernatural beings.  When Heck confronts the leader of the club, he finds out that its members are also being removed, with evidence pointing to Heck’s club.  Jimmy arrives to prevent Heck from starting a war with the other club and as a result, the latter joins the two clubs in an all-out assault at Mike.  Mike has a magic item that calls forward many mystic beings, but even with their help he is unable to defeat Heck.  However, during the war, Mike, encouraged by the mysterious Viper, gets Heck’s mother killed and almost unhinges Heck to a mental state where his true nature is unleashed.  What Heck does not know is that Viper is his father, and he also has magic powers, which Heck may have inherited.

In the meantime, Lovena is investigating another series of disappearances.  Her search brings her to a trailer park that is terrorized by ancient killer clowns who use the guise of Insane Clown Posse fans to lure young people whom they later kill.  These clowns are led by a mysterious and ancient alchemist who is working on an immortality potion.  Lovena is put on the right track by a group of trailer park kids, akin to the Goonies, who are aware of the clowns and their whereabouts.  During an attack by the clowns and their henchmen, some of the kids are captured and prepared for a ritual sacrifice, so Lovena with a motley band of children, the bookish Max from the previous book and an ancient hobo, race against the clock to rescue them.

Both stories by themselves are full of outlandish action, suspense and interesting characters.  Jimmy, Heck, Lovena and Max get no character development, which is expected given that they got enough of that in the previous book.  Some of the children, on the other hand, have nice arcs, and Viper gets just enough exposition to make him interesting.  However, apart of a few calls and chance meetings between the two groups of characters, there is no overlap, and both stories could have been published separately, as shorter novellas.  In this regard, the work strongly reminded me of the German John Sinclair series by Jason Dark (which, sadly, has never seen any English translation).  There, the titular character fights all kinds of monsters that are very similar to those in this book, and he occasionally interacts with recurring characters that either help him or are on their own quests.  For me, King of the Road seemed a little derivative, even though I highly doubt the author even heard of the German series, but it biased me a little against the book.

The good news was that the writing quality has improved.  Grammar and sentence structure was not as awkward as in the first book.  In addition, the pacing was spot on, and the third act of both stories took place almost concurrently, without slowing down the overall book at all.  In this, the reading was smooth and entertaining.

Overall, The King of the Road is still fun to read, especially for people who want more supernatural action and less cosmic horror.  The novel is easier to read than the first one, as it does not suffer from inconsistent pacing and occasionally offers an almost 80s movie script quality.  If you are looking for music recommendations, the author meticulously lists all songs that are being played in the background (I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Spotify playlist somewhere).  Those like me, who prefer more down-to-earth characters and harder to comprehend horrors, may find this title less appealing.

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