Archive for May, 2017

Book Review- Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry

Dogs of WarOne of my favorite aspects of heroic fiction is the protagonist that refuses to stay down. When the forces of darkness knock them to the canvas they always get back up because the safety of the city, country, or world is on the line. Those stories are even more powerful and poignant when there’s a cost to getting back on your feet and continuing to fight until the day is won. Jonathan Maberry demonstrated that with his last Joe Ledger novel (the eight in the series), “Kill Switch” where Joe and his fellow soldiers, scientists, and support staff at the Department of Military Sciences dealt with a scheme that almost shattered them and their seemingly invincible organization. They endured the worst their enemies threw at them though, and saved the world. The result was one of the best entries in the series.

Unfortunately for Joe and his comrades though their job is to wage a never ending war against the forces that would terrorize innocence whoever and wherever they may be. So how do you come back to the fight after surviving a conflict that took the lives of many of your comrades, robbed your organization of it’s stellar reputation, and nearly robbed you of your sanity and your life? That’s one of the central questions in Maberry’s latest Ledger novel, “Dogs of War,” and the journey towards answering it was pretty fascinating and a whole lot of fun.

When “Dogs of War” picks up Joe, his enigmatic boss Mr. Church, and the surviving250px-JonathanMaberry members of the Department of Military Sciences are in rebuilding mode. They’re trying to repair the devastating damage done to their ranks, reputation, and morale that was done in “Kill Switch” and it’s easier said than done. So right away in “Dogs of War” they’re on their back foot, and it’s an interesting place to be because the characters and us readers are not used to it. That position also gives the story some extra poignance and resonance. We’re not used to Joe and the DMS being underdogs. So as “Dogs of War” moves along you’ll find yourself rooting for Joe, Top, Bunny, and all your old favorites more than usual. Watching them rise up and try to get back to where they were is especially fun.

Another way in which “Dogs of War” is enjoyably unique is its narrative and structure. Many of the previous Ledger books were action thrillers with a variety of genre elements and an immense scope and scale. “Dogs of War” has all of those hallmarks, but to me it felt like a novel that was just as intimate as it what “wide screen.” For much of the story the cast is paired down to just Joe, his best friend and the DMS’ resident mental health specialist, Dr. Rudy Sanchez, and his brother Sean, a homicide detective with the Baltimore Police.

So in a lot of ways “Dogs of War” is just as much a detective novel as it is an action thriller. It’s also a novel of sci-fi and horror. That might sound radical and off putting to some fans, but trust me it’s not. That’s because just when you think you’ve got the plot and the rhythm of the novel worked out Maberry hits you with an organic and well placed twist that turns the story up to 11 and shows all the things you thought you might be missing were brewing in the background.

The nature of the threat that Joe and company face is also pretty compelling. Before “Dogs of War” even begins Maberry states that all the scary science that his characters run afoul of in the book is either in active development, field testing, and or already in use. I don’t want to spoil anything by saying much more than that, but I will say much of the horror in the novel comes from the truly terrifying applications a shadowy conspiracy devises for things that used to be science fiction, but are now science fact like nanites and robots.

The villains behind this conspiracy are also quite fascinating. One of them I started off hating, but the more and more Maberry revealed about her tragic life the more I empathized with her. That was a pretty grand accomplishment to because I started off hating this villain.

The other chief antagonist of “Dogs of War” turns out to be a great villain as well. Especially when you find out what’s really going on with the character. Again I’m not going to say much, but it ties back into some of the cooler genre elements that have been percolating in the back of the Ledger series for some time now. It also offers up more tantalizing clues into the past of one of the mosts mysterious characters in the Ledger series.

So you get some long term plot and mystery payoff, but you also get plenty of great character moments as well. Joe spends much of the book separated from the founding members of Echo Team, Top and Bunny. Those characters get their moments to shine too though. Plus we get to check in with sniper Sam Imura. Some of my favorite moments though came in scenes where the DMS support staff got some time to shine and show that, while they might not be highly trained soldiers ,they’re still very much heroes in their own right. I particularly like the scenes with computer specialists Bug and Nikki, and forensics analyst Jerry Spencer.

Maberry also gave readers an insanely cool new member of the DMS to root for in the form of ex-cop and soldier Tracy Cole. She wasn’t in as much as the book as Joe or even Top and Bunny, but the scenes we got with were awesome and she was so bad-ass. I can’t wait to read more about her.

So it’s incredibly difficult to keep a book series and its characters interesting after nine entries, but with “Kill Switch” and now “Dogs of War” Maberry demonstrates that the Joe Ledger series is in no danger of running out of steam. In fact it’s becoming an even more fun and fascinating with each entry. I can’t wait until spring 2018 for the next installment.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger