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Rogue Angel 8: Secret of the Slaves3 stars

The eighth Annja Creed adventure shows the series on what I can only hope is an improvement curve, a fact made all the more surprising for its having been written by Victor Milán. Milán’s prior two entries, The Chosen and The Lost Scrolls, were such utterly half-assed hackery, I began to wonder if he were trying to get Gold Eagle to let him out of his contract early. But he’s come back strong with a swell example of pulp escapist talespinning. Yes, it has its cheesy elements, and knowing the formula of such stories, the book’s surprises aren’t so surprising. But this time, my enjoyment of it was sincere, without needing to be filtered through the snarkometer. If you feel like checking out any of the Rogue Angel books for any reason, this would be one to pick.

This time, Annja is dispatched to the Amazonian jungles to track down a fabled city called Promessa, said to have been founded by the quilombo, or escaped slaves. Her employer is one Sir Iain Moran, a billionaire rock-star philanthropist, who believes the city exists and holds the secrets to life extension, a gift he wants to share with the world. Moran, whose improbable stage name is Publico, is, I imagine, supposed to come across as a mashup of Bono and Dr. No. No sooner has Annja arrived in humid old Brazil than it’s made abundantly clear there is indeed a Promessa, and an organized citizenry of Promessans with extraordinary technology (the exact origin of which Milan either declines or forgets to explain, but I’ll cut him the slack) prepared to go to any lengths to protect themselves.

While the story has Annja encountering friends who may be foes, and vice versa, Milán does manage to slip in some relevant and non-preachy commentary on the exploitation (and worse) of indigenous peoples at the hands of ruthless modern governments and other monied interests. The notion that Western philanthropic organizations may well know the extent of the worst atrocities that occur, and either don’t bother to help or are only able to help in the smallest ways, is a disconcerting and inconvenient truth as well, I suspect.

Secret of the Slaves gave me an enjoyable read, even if its faithfulness to the series’ established narrative template didn’t waver much. It has its share of sloppy storytelling. There is an idea involving Amazonian gods possessing people that is introduced then left dangling with no further development. And I guessed early on how the book would likely end. But Milán’s craft — something he actually decided to care about this time — and the series’ evolving treatment of Annja as a real character with internal emotional and moral conflicts, rather than an objectified comic or video game heroine archetype, helps the Rogue Angel series level up admirably with this entry.

Followed by Warrior Spirit.