BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

SMUGGLING SPIRITS BOOK ONE by Ben Fisher and Mike Henderson

Cover Image

I liked the feel of Smuggling Spirits: Book One from the minute I pulled it out of the package. The blood red cover featuring the hard guy and the kid toting the machine gun immediately made me think of Max Allan Collins’s Road To Perdition, but the resemblance ended there. Writer Ben Fisher and artist Mike Henderson take a hard right turn off that particular road and into a razor-edged nightmare world by page four in a screamfest that almost jumps out at the reader.

The book is published by Ambrosia Publishing, an internet-based entertainment company that specializes in graphic novels. They release the stories on the internet first, then print them in small graphic novel format.

Fisher and Henderson’s macabre tale is set in the Prohibition Era in the United States. Al Stone is a bootlegger, a driver that carries illegal booze from hidden stills to the speakeasies and bars that buy it through the back door for discerning customers. Back in the day, this was big business. Just ask Al Capone.

His sidekick, and the first-person narrator of the tale, is a young boy named Nathan. When it comes to the world, Nathan and Al don’t see eye to eye. Nathan sees the monsters, the darklings, that have moved into the world and prey on the unwary and weak. This difference between the characters, with the reader seeing what Al and Nathan see, sharpens the suspense.

Fisher and Henderson work well together. As an author, Fisher stays off the pages as much as possible and lets Henderson’s black and white artwork propel the story at breakneck pace through a twisted and familiar nightmarish landscape. The art will probably make a lot of readers think of Frank Miller’s Sin City books, but that’s a good thing. The finished pieces are a little rougher than Miller’s stuff, but the visceral excitement and violence is all there.

I loved the opening sequence in the rain, and the way that I was lured into thinking this was going to be a normal bootlegger’s run. Then things got weird. It didn’t take long before I realized that bringing liquor to a “dry” bar was a lot harder in this world than it had been in ours.

Before Al and Nate get far, they’re attacked by monsters that try to prevent them from reaching the still where they’re supposed to pick up a load of moonshine. Henderson makes the most of full-page and two-page spreads as he lays out the action and the monsters. While at the shed, Al and Nate make a gruesome discovery and take action that’s certain to have consequences. All of that is left as a cliffhanger for the second volume in the series.

I enjoyed Smuggling Spirits a lot because of the world creation and the characters. Al has a great, tough guy relationship with Nathan that I warmed to. And Nathan’s protective feelings toward Al because of the man’s inability to see the world as it really is was also touching.

The graphic novel is a quick, easy read, but that’s deceptive. I found myself wandering back through the pages in short order, and looking over the sketch pages that Henderson provided again and again. I hadn’t heard of Fisher or Henderson before this book, but I’ll definitely be watching to see where they go next.

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