I’m going to have to change my reviewing strategy, I now realise, because so far I’ve only made it through the first actual chapter of this damned book and this means two things: first, that at this rate the finished review could have a greater word count than its subject; and second, that I would most likely spend my remaining days smashing my remaining brains against the walls of my skull, it in turn against the walls of my cell, until any and all memories of the experience were gone and I was free to drool my last in relative peace.

It scares me to admit, but Valhalla Rising may actually be a worse book than The Da Vinci Code after all. I feel sick just considering it.

Chapter Two is, fortunately, pretty short and features only one crashing error of dramatic judgement, so let’s look at it quickly and move on. As First Officer Sheffield continues to waste time and endanger lives, and while braver and more manly crewmen battle the raging holocaust – first usage of the word – in a brave and, above all, manly fashion, Dr. Egan and his lovely assistant… daughter Kelly have to battle against the tide of panicking passengers to rescue his vital papers from burning.

In all honesty, I may have been too kind saying only one crashing error. When they get back to the deck, they find a crowd waiting for them.

Entire families were there: fathers, mothers and children, many still in their pajamas. A few of the children were whining in terror, while others enjoyed it as a big game until they saw the fear in their parents’ eyes. Women with dishevelled hair in bathrobes stood amid others who had refused to be rushed and had put on makeup, dressed stylishly and carried handbags. Men were in a variety of casual dress. Several wore sports coats over Bermuda shorts. Only one young couple had come prepared to jump. They were wearing their swimsuits. But the one thing they all had in common was a fear of death.

Having read on a little further than this, it’s become difficult for me to tell if this passage does full justice to Cussler’s latent sexism or not; maybe it’s too mild a case. But aside from the utterly trivial clothing detail, which only lacks the appropriate designer label information to put it up there with American Psycho (I half expected Dr. Egan to start fantasising about plunging his giant penis into everybody) this is probably not even the first of many references to femaleishness that does something of a disservice to the Suffragette movement. I notice that none of the men insisted on shaving before death, or putting on their very best tux at this crux moment in their lives – in Cussler’s world, real men don’t do this kind of thing. And in Cussler’s world there are only real men.

Apart from First Officer Sheffield.

A woman was moaning hysterically, Cussler spat in contempt

– shortly before she jumps the railing into the ocean and is swept away to her doom. Rightly. However, just as Kelly finishes staring over that railing herself, her father returns carrying his brown leather case – more on that later – and suggests that doing exactly the same may be their only option if they don’t want to be burned alive.

He looked solemnly into his daughter’s eyes. They sparkled like blue sapphires when the light hit them just right. Er, is this really the time for this? He could never help marvelling at how much she looked like her mother, Lana, at the same age. Their height and weight and body shapes were identical: both tall, finely contoured, with the near-perfect proportions of models. Dude. It’s your daughter. Kelly’s long, straight, maple-sugar brown hair framing a strong face with high cheekbones, sculptured lips and perfect nose were a mirror image, too. Right: too symmetrical. That’s always freaky. The only difference between mother and daughter was the suppleness of their arms and legs. Ohhhh, Gawd, yeah… Kelly was the more athletic, while her mother had been soft and graceful typing with one hand now. Both Kelly and her father – wait, whose head are we in here? – had been devastated when Lana had died after a long battle with breast cancer aw, the MOOD. Thanks a bunch, Cussler. Ruined. Now, as he stood there on the burning ship (he gave a cough, his leg fell off), his heart felt an indescribable heaviness at realising Kelly’s own life was in dire jeopardy of being cut short. Egan thrust his mighty organ into her again and again and imagined the roasting passengers orgying wildly around them. Everyone was admiring his platinum Rolex…

Enough. The chapter ends with Manly-Man McFerrin verbally bitch-slapping Fraidy-Man Sheffield until he finally stops the ship, so the breeze won’t fan the flames any further and people could jump off it without it still meaning certain death. McFerrin leaves us with a piece of chillingly terse, manly dialogue, one of only two ways in which the menly men of Cussler’s World seem capable of speaking.

It was then that I turned to Chapter Three and discovered that Clive Cussler is a genius.

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