Tangent Online: “rumbled on monotonously”. The Fix: “a group of variously broken and somewhat annoying characters stuck on a journey we don’t really understand”. I, of course, quite liked it. It’s true that the cast is a gang of squabblers, and it’s true that one note defines the story. But it’s a good, solid note of paranoid urgency: we ride shotgun as the gang truck their way across a security-throttled near-future North-West US with a stolen nuclear bomb in the back. They fear being caught, though any pursuers never get close enough to be a threat; and the narrator fears the bomb’s whispering words, which may burn a hole in his mind (yes, not unlike a certain Ring) before they can reach their destination and chuck the bomb down the throat of Mount Rainier (so why Isengard in the title, I haven’t worked out). The gang’s interactions are nervous and claustrophobic and nicely observed; when each member falls by the wayside, something does seem to be lost. There’s the occasional dose of Meaning:
“It won’t matter, in the end. Maybe it was just something on impulse we did to make us feel better. Maybe if we really meant it we’d have stayed low, stayed quiet and made change another way instead of blowing all our chances from here on forward to make some difference. To be some good for real, not just … bomb’s a symbol. It’s not the world.”
The ending tries too hard. But the rumbling journey is worth it.