Darren Shan’s Hell’s Horizon is a weird sequel — if you think it’s weird to completely ignore the hero of the first novel in a trilogy. After describing the mysterious and mystical rise of Capac Raimi in Procession of the Dead, Shan turns his attentions to Al Jeery, a random soldier in the Cardinal’s army known as Troops. Al doesn’t realize it, but he’s about to be promoted. His new job, believe it or not, is to develop some ambition in life by investigating and solving a murder.
It turns out that a woman was killed in the Cardinal’s tower, Party Central. No one messes with the Cardinal… until now. Shockingly, the killer not only murdered someone in the Cardinal’s backyard, but he also got away. The Cardinal demands answers, but the police aren’t finding anything, so the kingpin of the City turns to Al Jeery. The Cardinal has a feeling that Al will succeed where the police have failed. After all, the victim was Al’s ex-girlfriend.
So this time, it’s personal.
Unfortunately, fans looking for a noir detective novel should probably look elsewhere. Jeery is poorly trained to be a detective protagonist, and he offers very few jaded observations about our corrupt world. After all, Al isn’t a detective; he’s a hired goon.
The shift to noirish detective novel is somewhat jarring. Thankfully, some of the supporting cast remains, and it may be that Hell’s Horizon’s main attraction is not Al Jeery but rather Paucar Wami, the most dangerous assassin in the City. Wami is so dangerous that he has snake tattoos on his face – and not even the Cardinal can control him. So it makes sense to suspect that Wami is the killer that got away, making for an interesting conflict for Al, but it unfortunately turns out Wami didn’t do it. So, against all odds, the assassin Wami joins the hired goon and together they play detective.
Some readers will question why an assassin would join a murder investigation, but a better question might be “what is a police procedural doing in The City trilogy?” Procession of the Dead was a coming of age story that attempted to answer the question “how do you create an immortal gangster?” It’s a little like a leadership convention, but with mythology-based mysticism for spice. When Procession of the Dead ends, Raimi has attained ultimately criminal power but he seems to be trapped within his own immortality. Now, we’ve gone back in time: the Cardinal is still alive and Raimi is absent.
Shan does bring the two novels together in the last five pages, but the relationship between the two narratives remains about as hazy as the green fog with which Incan monks alter the history of the City. Perhaps the final installment will bring everything into clearer focus. However, on its own, Hell’s Horizon feels like a misstep. As a detective story, it is disappointingly flat and as the sequel to Procession of the Dead, it is disappointingly irrelevant.