When I was about 10 or 11 I was wandering though the Wayne Public Library when I came across a paperback book on a spinner rack with a striking cover. It had a submarine that had just come up from the waves and standing on it’s deck were a team of guys with automatic weapons and a ninja! It was the cover to Gold Eagle Publishing’s “Phoenix Force” #27 titled, “Weep Moscow, Weep” and it was too cool for my young brain to process. I devoured the book and others in the related series like “Able Team” and the Gold Eagle Mack Bolans. Unfortunately after several years of reading the books they became sort of derivative. Some authors were able to do some pretty cool things, but they were saddled with some elements that kept the books feeling static; like nothing really changed. Those books in the “Men’s Adventure” genre still hold a place in my heart though, which is why I’m glad writer Jonathan Maberry has worked some of their elements into his fantastic Joe Ledger series, book two of which, I just finished.
The second book in the Ledger series is titled, “The Dragon Factory” and it’s even better than the first entry “Patient Zero.” A big part of that is because of the character of Joe Ledger himself. In Ledger Maberry has a very interesting hero that’s trying to balance three competing sides of his personality, the rational calm man, the analytical cop, and the soldier which craves violence and excitement. That challenge for him becomes even harder because of the events of “The Dragon Factory.” First because of the villains he must face, and second because of the book’s climax, which I’m not going to spoil.
Ledger is also an incredibly charismatic character the portions where he appears in “The Dragon Factory” are all from his point of view and they’re very engaging and readable. I was always excited when we got a Ledger chapter.
Joe isn’t the only exciting character in “The Dragon Factory” though. Maberry packs the book with an eclectic and interiguing cast. Many of them are returning characters like Joe’s fellow Echo Team soldiers Top Sims and the gigantic soldier known as Bunny, who I’ve grown to love almost as much as Ledger. There’s also Ledger’s boss in the Department of Military Sciences, Mister Church and Joe’s friend and voice of reason the DMS’ psychiatrist, Doctor Rudy Sanchez. We also get to learn more about the woman Joe is trying really hard to not fall in love with, Grace Courtland, a fellow DMS soldier. Grace was one of England’s top Special Forces operators and Maberry shows you why in this book.
In “The Dragon Factory” Joe, Grace, and the rest of the DMS are up against a group of fascinating and utterly evil adversaries, the Jakoby Family. Cyrus Jakoby, the family’s psychotic patriarch, is a depsicable, but brillaint scientist who has a created an underground empire dedicated to advancing the science of Eugenics. His unlimited funding and disregard for ethics and life has lead to break throughs in the sciences of cloning, and gene therapy and also allowed him to weaponize diseases. Cyrus also has two children Hecate and Paris who are brilliant in their own twisted and diseased way. Their heavily fortified laboratory, the Dragon Factory focuses on creating monsters straight out of myth by splicing genes.
Cyrus is a believer in the twisted ideals of Nazi party and in “The Dragon Factory” he sets about putting a doomsday scenario in motion to make those dreams into a reality. Before Ledger and the DMS can discover or react to Cyrus’ mad scheme they are put on the defensive by a plan concocted by Cyrus’ children. So “The Dragon Factory” begins with our heroes in the dark and desperate to discover what’s truly going on. It’s a great set up. The pacing and tone of the book are perfect and just crackle. Maberry amps things up by including a countdown clock to when Cyrus’ plan will be put into motion. It really ratchets up the tension.
Of course tension isn’t the only thing Maberry does well. The man is a master at action scenes. He’s clearly done research to make all his gun battles and military operations feel authentic, but he’s also got a background in Martial arts and uses it expertly. Maberry’s hand to hand battles are so much fun to read. He knows what he’s talking about and he knows how to describe them in interesting and fast paced ways.
When you add all those elements together you get a story with an epic scope and scale. The “Dragon Factory” features several huge battles that happen all across the country and the excitement in all of them is palpable. Especially the final one, where you have characters acting and reacting to dangerous and exciting events. The only time I’ve felt more engaged in large scale action sequences was when I was involved in them by playing video games.
Perhaps best of all is the fact Maberry emphasizes that these action sequences and the violence in them don’t come without a price. In the epilogue of the “Dragon Factory” that price is paid. You see characters grow, change, and deal with some of the things that happen. One character does so in way that leaves the series in a very interesting place. So much so, that I’m willing to break my rule about reading one book in a series right after another. After I finish this piece I’m going to start reading Maberry’s third Ledger novel, “The King of Plagues.”
So to sum up, “The Dragon Factory” is an incredibly fun and fulfilling read. It’s even better than the first entry in the Ledger series, “Patient Zero,” which I also thought was very good.