Agent 87 and the Black Train, written by Robert Geronimo, illustrated by Chilly Bliss. Release date October 9th 2014. Mary Williams, Editor. Ascalon Press
Agent 87—spy, linguist, and master of disguise—is making her debut in Agent 87 and the Black Train. When Agent 87 goes undercover to investigate a mysterious weapons project in Japan-occupied China, she makes a horrifying discovery and must stop the train racing towards Russia before it can unleash its fatal cargo on the Allies. Agent 87 is a homage to pulp fiction novels of the 1930s and 40s, particularly The Shadow, The Phantom, and Secret Agent X, and it's appropriately dark, fast-paced, and gritty. In addition to intrigue and adventure, the book also has a delicious element of classic horror.
I'm an editor. I love working with writers and helping them tell their story. But, in order to do that, I need to like the story and the writer's vision, so I asked author Robert Geronimo to send me a few sample chapters. I was hooked as soon as I read the prologue and immediately agreed to edit the manuscript.
Agent 87, which features beautiful black and white illustrations from Chilly Bliss (The Punisher/Wolverine), is the second title from Ascalon Press, an independent publisher that aims to promote gender equality through books featuring strong female characters. Rob founded Ascalon Press last year when his children's picture bookLittle Maia and The Coral City received positive feedback from agents who loved Coral City, but not Little Maia, and suggested that he replace her with a male protagonist. Seeing the need for a space that celebrated stories about women, Rob decided to start his own publishing company. And though the enigmatic and lethal Agent 87 is very different from Little Maia, both fulfill the vision of Ascalon Press: to tell the gripping stories of brave, compelling female characters.
Agent 87 and the Black Train reminds me of the exciting adventures stories that I loved as a child, like Indiana Jones and James Bond. Instead of identifying with the sexy women who came and went in each new adventure, I saw myself in Indy and 007. To me, the idea of a woman fulfilling this role doesn't feel revolutionary, it feels like an obvious choice, and one I enjoyed being part of. Rob's enthusiasm and commitment to Ascalon Press and Agent 87 made him a wonderful writer to work with.
I can't give Agent 87 all the attention, though. One of my favorite things about the novel is its vivid cast of secondary characters: Max Hummels, Agent 87's kind German partner, Pierre Mesnard, a French firearms expert, and Chedi Tejeda, a sly mercenary from the Philippines, all join Agent 87 on her mission. With Agent 87, Rob aims to give female readers their own Indiana Jones to root for, but he made sure to include plenty of male sidekicks, too. The relationships and interactions between the members of Agent 87's quirky, international team add humor and sentiment to the action-packed story. Ultimately, they must overcome their differences and work together to defeat an equally colorful and imaginative array of villains.