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Book Review- Assassin’s Code

When I was a kid I was drawn to horror stories because essentially they were about men and women going into the dark to face monsters, being tested, and walking away victorious. The older I got the more I understood and appreciated the fact that some monsters are all too human and all too often battling these monsters would change people. They were battles worth fighting, but fighting and winning them comes with a cost. When I find a story that can combine that youthful feeling of excitement with the grit and realism of stories that mean something and matter I devour that story. When you find an author who delivers those types of stories on a regular basis you find yourself eagerly awaiting that author’s next book. Jonathan Maberry is just such an author.

In the previous three novels of his Joe Ledger series he’s given readers exciting tales of highly trained soldiers that battle human and man made scientific monsters and the price they pay for doing that duty. In his latest novel, “Assassin’s Code,” the fourth in the Ledger series, Maberry takes his soldiers one step further into the darkness as they come up against mythic and possible supernatural monsters. The result is the best novel in the series so far.

“Assassin’s Code” kicks off in media res and dumps both readers and Joe Ledger into a tense situation. Ledger and his fellow soldiers in Echo Team are in Iran looking for an escape route after accomplishing a successful mission to free some American hikers that the Iranian government has taken hostage. While Ledger is laying low a high ranking member of Iranian Intelligence ambushes him and forces him into a clandestine meeting where he delivers some shocking news; an unknown enemy has rigged several oil fields with nuclear bombs. Ledger and his team must discover who this enemy is and stop the bombs from being detonated before it’s too late.

From there the novel takes off like a rocket. The pacing in “Assassin’s Code” is breath taking. Pacing is something Maberry has always been good at, but I think this is his most exhilaratingly paced novel yet. The main action of the story occurs over the course of only about two days and much of those days are spent running with Joe Ledger as he tries to stay away from a horde of enemies, or with the command and support staff of the Department of Military Sciences, the clandestine organization Leger works for, as they try to decipher the clues to the mystery of what they’re facing. There are some flashbacks that take place months, and even centuries earlier but they are useful and shocking revelations that only heighten the enjoyment of the story.

Speaking of revelations, now we come to spoiler territory. Let’s see if I can dance around it. The primary enemies that Ledger, Echo Team, and the DMS face in “Assassin’s Code” are an ancient order of assassins known as the Red Order. Much of the novel is spent trying to determine what the members of the Red Order are and if they are products of the supernatural or some weird offshoot of science. Maberry does an excellent job handling the revelations surrounding the Red Order. With the ending of the last Ledger book, “The King of Plagues” and some of the developments in this one, especially those surrounding a returning villain from “The King of the Plagues,” it feels like Maberry is guiding his readers into the deep end of the supernatural pool. He’s doing it in the same expert way John Connelly did with his Charlie Parker series of novels. It’s exciting to see.

Since we’re on the topic of the supernatural fans of Maberry’s “Pine Deep” trilogy of novels will appreciate a fun little Easter Egg that links the trilogy to the Ledger novels. It’s the second of such links (the first being a fun short story titled “Material Witness” that is available for download.) I look forward to a later meeting by the survivors of the Pine Deep novels and the members of the DMS.

Character wise, “Assassins Code” is a great mix of old and new cast members. As usual, Maberry gives readers plenty of time inside the scarred, but noble psyche of his protagonist, Joe Ledger. He also gives us some more clues into the past of the most intriguing supporting character in the Ledger series, the enigmatic Mister Church. Echo Team doesn’t get as much time in this installment as previous novels, but you do get to know their three newest members a little more; Khalid Shaheed, Lydia Ruiz, and most importantly my favorite the sniper of few words, John Smith. You also get some time with some reoccurring villains (no spoilers here either!) One becomes a bigger character you love to hate, one has a surprising transformation, and one becomes even more frightening and mysterious.

In terms of new characters we’re given a host of intriguing ones in the form of two rival organizations. The first is a team of all female warriors and assassins known as Arklight, who Mister Church has a mysterious connection with. Their chief operative in the story is a woman known as Violin that assists Ledger throughout the story and has some pretty interesting chemistry with him. The second is the dangerous and powerful Red Order and their leader, Grigor, a bloodthristy and hateful man who has dubbed himself the King of Thorns

When Grigor and his enemies come up against Joe Ledger and his allies the results are some pretty powerful and exciting action scenes. Those of you who have read my previous reviews of the Ledger novels know how much I love Maberry’s action scenes, particularly the ones involving hand to hand combat. “Asssassin’s Code” is packed with those. There are several stand out brutal and vicious fights that really test Joe Ledger’s mettle as a character. Lately, I’ve been reading Jack Kirby’s work on Marvel Comics “Black Panther” series and one of the reasons why Kirby was called “The King of Comics” was because of the visceral and powerful ways he brought to life action scenes. The action scenes in the other Ledger novels and especially “Assassin’s Code” are a pretty good argument for dubbing Maberry “The Jack Kirby” of prose.

The action, characters, plot, and pacing, all combine together for Maberry’s most satisfying Joe Ledger novel to date. The ending of the book really kept me guessing and ended on several very cool notes. The epilogue wraps up several things and also sets the stage for the next Ledger novel, which I eagerly await.

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Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized
  1. January 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

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