It’s been a while since I’ve read the first Joe Ledger super-adventure, Patient Zero, and as you can read in this review, I loved it. It did set the bar extremely high for sequels, and I was really scared of being let down – after all, how do you top a hectically fast-paced, explosively brutal and supremely imaginative novel like Patient Zero?
Well, I don’t have a clue – but Jonathan Maberry does.
The Dragon Factory
As I began with The Dragon Factory I was a bit stunned at how it began – it’s one of those novel-openings that shows the main protagonist in extreme danger – but I thought it was very cleverly done because I actually did worry that Joe would bite the big one in the novel. After the massive dangers he faced in Patient Zero I was sitting there thinking, “Dude, I know you’re good, but jeez, this might be a bit much for even you to deal with!”
At the end of that scene the novel then launches with Joe’s POV chapters, interspersed with POV chapters from a variety of other characters, most central to the tale, others not. One of the very difficult things that a writer sometimes does is not only switching POV but types of POV – Joe’s POVs in the books are First-Person, while the other characters are Third-Person, and it’s a risky venture, swapping POVs like that, because the reader might just be jarred out of the book; Jonathan managed these POV-switches so well that the entire read was practically seamless, so no jarring. Also, Jonathan sets the scene at the beginning of each chapter by giving the reader the place, date and time in which that scene takes place, just in case there is any confusion. So the book’s structure was well thought out and it flowed seamlessly from scene to scene, which helped the pace of the novel pick up when the action began shredding walls and ceilings and stuff.
That’s another aspect of Jonathan’s novels that impress the hell out of me – the pace of these things is absolutely incredible! I first started with The Dragon Factory by listening to the audio-book, but audio books need to be savoured and enjoyed, i.e. you need to be relaxed when you listen to one – and the thing is, Jonathan doesn’t let you relax. In fact, I found myself biting my nails and pacing up and down and punching the air and uttering short and very un-manly squeals when I read the novel. Took me three days, give or take a couple of hours, and at the end of it I was breathless and amazed.
The book’s action scenes are beyond hard-hitting and thrilling – Jonathan puts his characters through so many wringers that a new plural for ‘wringer’ needs to be invented, and his characters are affected by this: they get battered, beaten, struggle to understand the morality of the lives they lead, etc. They don’t just reload and keep on blasting. The book’s plot is as interesting, if not more, than that of Patient Zero, and bigger in scope, too, though the shadow of Patient Zero is there – its effects still felt by all the characters who survived through the events that followed Joe Ledger’s joining the DMS. And the climax is, well, shattering – certainly left me quiet for a long while, while at the same time itching to read the next Joe Ledger novel.
There are many ways to judge how good a novel is, and one of those many ways is the ending – for The Dragon Factory’s climax to hit me as hard as it did and still leave me foaming at the mouth for the next novel means that it’s a damned good novel; Jonathan Maberry has become my own high watermark of Speculative Thriller excellence.
So, 9 / 10 for an insanse, highly enjoyable and utterly unputdownable novel!
The King of Plagues
King of Plagues was an extremely clever novel, in many ways – even got me thinking about thriller writers and whether they might constitute a threat to America’s national security! (Seriously, you’ll have to read it to understand what I mean by that.)
The novels opens some months after the end of The Dragon Factory and there are many repercussions that the characters are still dealing with – which already impressed me because of the real sense of continuity that this series has. The scope of the novel is a bit smaller than in The Dragon Factory but this works for the novel, and through the read I came to agree with this risk that Jonathan took – after all, sequels should be bigger and better than the previous books, but that doesn’t always have to do with length, events, action, etc. The ‘bigger and better’ can also mean that the characters get a tighter focus, so that the conflicts they feel and the shit they go through seems as hectic -if not more- than the bombs exploding around them and the bullets zip past them.
A very surprising character returns in The King of Plagues, and as soon as I realized who this character was I knew that all manner of fireworks were going to explode – it’s also the moment that the novel really kicks into high gear, and because it happened early enough in the novel, well, I finished the book in two days or something – yep, it was that cool. One of the villains in the novel (yep, you read that right – Joe and the DMS faced truly insane odds in this book) was handled so well that when the moment of revelation came (regarding who that character actually was) it was a punch to the gut – really awesomely done! And there was also one very intriguing character who I really hope to see more of – his role was small, but he’s damned memorable (when you meet him you’ll probably agree with me).
The King of Plagues also struck me as being a pretty topical book, because it didn’t have anything extravagantly cool like zombies or genetically modified freaks in it: the novel takes a pretty dark and alarming look at fanatics, insanity and the terrifying willingness of man to hurt man, whether because of a post in an online forum or because of not actually caring enough. But I never once thought that Jonathan was preaching, which I thank him for.
So, is it the best book of the series so far? Yep, I think so. A helluva read, as fast-paced and exciting as I know Jonathan can be, as imaginative as ever, and totally cements Joe Ledger’s position as the most kickass asskicker in Thrillers. Die Hard and 24 just wouldn’t be able to keep up with or stop this man, that’s for sure!
9 / 10
And head over to Jonathan’s site – this post has info on the latest Joe Ledger thriller, Assassin’s Code, and all you need to know about the Joe Ledger series of novels and short stories.
Also, check this out – snatched it (with his permission) from Jonathan – I think it’s AWESOME:
And I absolutely cannot wait -although I’ll have to, being in South Africa- to read Assassin’s Code! Here’s the awesome cover:
Until next time,