Watt O'Hugh and the Innocent Dead

By Steven S. Drachman

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong


Sticking the landing is important. It can win the competition or cause a loss if one misses. In the case of the modern toxic fandom, missing the landing can make legions of fans hate you (Game of Thrones is an excellent example). Book series are similar. Authors who open up multiple threads throughout their story need to weave them all together in the end in a satisfying (or at least sensible) way for their readers. Or risk suffering the wrath of fandom. In our third look at the legendary pulp hero Watt O'Hugh the Third, we are again greeted with multiple timelines. We start off right before the beginning of book two for a little prophesizing before being radically pulled out into not only a different time but also a different world. O'Hugh finds himself in the Hell of the Innocent Dead, where those who were betrayed by someone close go after they die, like an evil purgatory. He is about to be devoured by a giant sand crab but is saved by the terrible poet Yu Dai-Yung. While Master Yu was a major and even viewpoint character in the previous novels, this appears to be the first meeting of the two. Master Yu explains what the Hell of the Innocent Dead is and the basic rules. He also tells O'Hugh he’s there to raise an army to help fight Sidonism, the evil Utopian totalitarian movement Watt’s been fighting on Earth since book one. The hell they’re trapped in is similar to Earth, though time seems simultaneously to exist and not to exist. Everything tastes slightly off and bad, and, try as one might, there’s never a way to be fully clean. All matter of mythical beasts and monsters exist, pushing the novel more into the fantasy realm versus the magical realism of the previous books. O'Hugh is going to be central to the final battle in hell, though no one is quite sure how. Along the way the pair meets an interesting cast of supporting characters and has various side (mis)adventures. O'Hugh's heroic nature prevents him from letting a girl, Althea, be sold into slavery, so the pair becomes a trio seeking to recruit Warlord Hua's mighty army. Hua agrees to join the battle in exchange for the Emerald Gemstone of Thoth, a stone that contains the secrets of the universe. Our heroes not only have to recruit an army of gods and titans (with special help from a prominent character from earlier in the series) but also to get demons on their side by convincing them that things can go back to the way they were before the Sidonians. Everything leads up to an epic battle at the gates of hell. As I said in my reviews of The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh and Watt O’Hugh Underground, I really enjoyed the first book but felt the second was a bit muddled. In the third, Drachman goes back to O’Hugh’s viewpoint, which brings along the wit and sense of humor missing from chunks of Underground). This novel mixes in more elements of fantasy by moving its setting to hell. Drachman's version of hell, or at least the Hell of the Innocent Dead, is fascinating, which is why I was frustrated that he kept pulling us out of it for "side missions" or O’Hugh’s memories. Like the previous novels, Innocent Dead is part of O’Hugh’s memoirs, and Drachman goes on tangents that, while related to the main story, detract from it. The memoir aspect also takes a bit of tension out of the final battle as we know our main hero will be fine. Drachman is a talented writer, although the story would have been vastly improved by better focus. Still, the author gave us a long look at human nature and Drachman gave a look at the varying degrees of hope we all seek out in our lives, whether we admit to it or not. While most of the novel was fairly dark, one passage stands out. When O'Hugh laments how people are generally bad he’s reminded, "'Not the firemen!' [the Oracle] exclaimed, and she was correct, I allowed. There could indeed be an egalitarian paradise on Earth if only everyone could be just exactly like the firemen, people who would run into burning buildings for no glory, no extra money, just because a building burned and there were lives to be saved." Watt O'Hugh and the Innocent Dead ends the trilogy, but I feel it won't be the last we see of our pulp hero. While the novel may not give fans closure, it certainly gives continuation and a new adventure in a new world. Worth a read if you are a fan and if not, I strongly recommend the first novel, The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh. Get a taste for it and see where you go from there.

You may also want to read our reviews of The Ghosts of Watt O'Hugh and Watt O'Hugh Underground.

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