photoReviewed by Marcus Hammond

In Adriadne MacGillivray and Kim Belair’s novel, Pure Steele, an expedition to Africa in 1910 is brought to life through complex reproductions of expedition materials and artwork. The combination of epistolary storytelling and artwork helps create a unique reading experience. Unfortunately, that combination also causes the reader to get bogged down in the visual aspects, which harms the overall narrative.

The story develops around a band of adventurers brought together by a young woman searching for the truth about her father’s disappearance in Africa. The adventurers hire James Alexander Steele III, a renowned hunter to lead the crew through the dark and dangerous jungles. The story is entirely developed through the correspondence, diary entries, and newspaper articles of the members of the expedition. Each recollection builds the overall narrative and mystique of James Alexander Steele III until he becomes a well-constructed pulp hero.

The details of the expedition of the unlikely band of travelers are enjoyably portrayed. MacGillivray and Belair mix characteristics of old pulp adventure with satire to create an adventure that could rival Burrough’s Tarzan tales. Steele III is a blend of Doc Savage and Indiana Jones. He’s an egotistical, adrenaline junkie with the perfect amount of heroism to be likable. The cast of minor characters also receives a fair dose of satirical development. The expedition party consists of the young woman who is searching for her father, a doctor, a cartographer, an upperclassman, and an accountant. Each of these roles help construct character interactions and plot depth that one may not expect out of a modern adventure novel.

The artwork and visual components of the story are beautifully done, but make the story hard to get lost in. Each page is a collage of artwork and reproduced correspondence. The authors painstakingly created hand-written letters and diary entries to help create a connection to the time period. This aspect, however, is daunting to read. Anyone who reads or writes letters knows it can be a challenge to decipher handwriting, and since the authors do an excellent job of recreating the communication for the time period much of the text is in ornate cursive.

Overall, the plot of Pure Steele is entertaining and the originality and visual depth of the development approach is something to appreciate on its own merits. Don’t, however, expect to tear through this novel from cover to cover because the visuals considerably stymie the pace at which it is read.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Blind Ferret Entertainment. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.