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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

Book Review- Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry

June 16, 2016 1 comment

Kill SwitchI started doing these book reviews as a writer’s exercise. Basically the goal was just to capture what felt about what I just read well also preserving any surprises that may come, because those can be some of the most enjoyable parts of a book; especially the kinds I read for enjoyment which are usually mystery/crime, horror, science fiction, fantasy and action adventure. Preserving those reveals can be a challenge though. Which is a good segue way into talking about Jonathan Maberry’s latest Joe Ledger novel “Kill Switch.” There’s so much cool stuff here, but you know what? I can’t talk about it! I don’t want to spoil it for you. So let’s see what we can do.

In many ways “Kill Switch” is a payoff novel. If you’ve followed Joe Ledger through his seven other adventures you’re going to love “Kill Switch.” This is a book where a lot of the pieces from other novels come together to give you some solid and exciting answers, but at the same time raising more questions. I can also say if you love Joe Ledger and the DMS this book is going to hurt you. It’s going to worry you, and if you’re like me there’s a good chance it might even make you cry in some (and in my case a lot of) spots.

From that pain though that Maberry inflicts on his cast and us readers comes some great drama. We already know that Joe and his colleagues are tough, heroes, but in “Kill Switch” we get to see how tough they are as they tangle with situations that would break the hearts and snap the sanity of lesser people. We also get to see that these larger than life heroes are human. Because they fail and they fall on more than one occasion, but they get up and they keep trying to hold back the darkness even against impossible odds.

When I say impossible odds I’m not kidding either. I can’t delve too deep into that area because, again spoilers! (The book really is a wild and fun ride of “OH SHIT!” and “HELL YEAH!” moments). Let’s just say this time Joe, Mr. Church and the DMS are up against a many headed hydra that includes real world foes, old foes, secret cabals of powerful and wealthy men, and what just might be the forces of one of the greatest horror franchises ever created. If you’re a fan of that horror franchise you’ll be happy to see that Maberry is clearly a fan as well. The book is full of fun little easter eggs and direct homages to said franchise.

What makes the story even more powerful though is at its core one of the things “Kill 250px-JonathanMaberrySwitch” is about is the relationship between fathers and sons. There’s more I want to say here, but again spoilers! I can say these relationships involve some new and fascinating characters that are incredibly nuanced. You look at a character one way, but then you look at them through the eyes of that father-son relationship and you see him in other powerful and sometimes poignant ways. I will also say I love one of these new characters and hope that we see them again in future Ledger novels.

So if you’re a fan of Jonathan Maberry this book has it all! It might even have some fun nods to his other book series! For me, The Ledger series has sort of become the novel equivalent of the big summer movie blockbuster. They hit right around the time summer begins and every year they never disappoint. This year was no exception. In fact having gone through “Kill Switch” with Joe Ledger and his DMS family I would say I’m more invested than ever in these characters. Maberry leaves them with a perfect ending and you can bet when he picks them up again in the next Ledger book I’ll be right beside them yelling, “Hooah!”

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger

Book Review- “Predator One” by Jonathan Maberry

Predator OneI think it’s very much appropriate that I’m typing this review up the weekend of the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the first blockbuster movie release of the summer of 2015. Because for me that’s what the Joe Ledger series of novels by Jonathan Maberry have become. Literary events that I wait all summer for, and like the best summer movie blockbusters they’re always entertaining. I just finished “Predator One” the latest Ledger novel and I’m happy to report that it’s more than just entertaining it’s perhaps my favorite entry in the series so far.

I used “Age of Ultron” as an example at the beginning of this interview and I loved that movie because it had big, insane, action and lots of fantastic character moments. I loved “Predator One” because it used the same formula to tell a highly satisfying story.

“Predator One” is the seventh installment of the Ledger series. So at this point I’ve bonded with the main cast of characters: Joe, his enigmatic boss Mr. Church, his comrades at arms Top and Bunny, his best friend Rudy, and even his dog Ghost. I’ve also come to love the rich supporting cast that has grown up around them like computer expert Bug, Joe’s girlfriend Junie, high ranking DMS officer Aunt Sallie, and the other members of Echo Team like Lydia Ruiz and Sam Imura. I’m even become attached to new recruits like Montana Parker who I can’t wait to see more of.

I say all that because those characters I love are put through the ringer in “Predator One.” Maberry makes them hurt and those250px-JonathanMaberry scenes are heartbreaking and powerful, but the writer also shows you why these characters are heroes in scenes that are inspiring and just as powerful where they deal with and overcome the physical and emotional traumas they’ve endured and fight back against the enemies that are threatening the world.

“Predator One” isn’t just a fascinating study in heroism though. It’s an equally fascinating look at villains and the evil that makes them tick. In the novel Maberry pits his cast against a frightening and fascinating array of foes. I of course hated all these characters because they were nasty pieces of work, but what was so intriguing about them was how multifaceted they were. You had a wide variety of evil motivating these characters. It raged from tragic souls that had been corrupted into monsters, a character who was motivated by greed and perhaps unsure at times about the evil he was part of, a character who was motivated by pure hate, and another that was motivated by something even darker.

We also got to follow a character who once walked the path of villainy and is trying to be something better. I love stories about characters working towards redemption or making amends for the bad things they’ve done, and in “Predator One” Maberry tells a pretty fascinating story about a character struggling to be better than he was in the scenes involving Toys Chismer. Those were some of my favorite scenes in the book.

I haven’t talked much about plot because it occurred to me that a lot of the fun I had with this book was some of the twists and turns that happened in it, and I don’t want to spoil that fun for readers who haven’t read “Predator One” yet. So there’s some stuff I really want to talk about, but I’m not going to. Let’s just say there’s some really cool reveals in the novel that just made it even more exciting, fun, and fascinating.

Here’s what I will say, in “Predator One” the villains come up with a way to take control of America’s developing drone and automated technology. So we get some frightening scenes of combat drones gone amok and even things like the growing number of automated functions on automobiles spiraling out of control . That leads a number of characters to have some great and nuanced discussions about the dangers and benefits of this technology. It of course leads to some kick-ass action sequences as well.

For my money no prose writer does action like Maberry. In “Predator One” he gives you plenty of brutal and exciting scenes of hand to hand combat, gun battles, and intense action sequences. A lot of those scenes come in the book’s last hundred pages where Maberry crafts one of the most exciting climaxes I’ve read in recent memory. I was sort of tired when I picked up the book and started the climax. I thought I might need some caffeine. I did some reading though and the prose on those pages was so intense it got me fired up and awake! I felt like I was right there and in the thick of things. Who needs coffee or soda when you’ve got the exploits of Joe Ledger!

So “Predator One” was a hell of a read. The Joe Ledger series are always highly entertaining reads, but to go back to my summer blockbuster metaphor this was something more. Maberry has crafted a novel that’s both entertaining and full of substance. So yes for me, “Predator One” was the literary equivalent of “Age of Ultron.” It had great action, even better character moments, and left me super excited about what comes next in the series.

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger

Book Review- Patient Zero

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the things I love about my job as a writer for Comic Book Resources is that it puts me in touch with a lot of cool and creative people. It also has introduced me to the work of a lot of fabulous prose novelists who go on to pen comics. My CBR work introduced me to the novels of Richard K Morgan, and Charlie Huston. It also introduced me to the work of another writer whose quickly becoming another one of my favorites, Jonathan Maberry.

In his work on comics like “Black Panther” and the one-shot “Punisher MAX: Naked Kill” Maberry showed he could write tough and charismatic men and women. From there I went on to try his first novels, the “Pine Deep” horror trilogy. In that series of novels he showed he could write tough but believable characters fighting back against supernatural evil. It was an epic story for me it was almost a modern day horrific “Lord of the Rings.” So I was very curious to try Maberry’s latest series of prose novels starring Joe Ledger, an ex-soldier turned cop who gets recruited to fight techno terror. I just finished the first novel “Patient Zero,” and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it. It read like a mash up of the best elements of the TV series “24” and the video game series “Resident Evil.”

“Patient Zero” begins with Ledger, in his final days as a cop, participating in a raid in a warehouse suspected of terrorist activity. He displays courage, cunning, and incredible combat skills. Several days later a shadowy government agency called the Department of Military Sciences picks up Joe and puts him in the same room as one of the terrorists from the warehouse raid. The problem is though that Joe killed that terrorist during the raid. The terrorist has now risen from the dead as a zombie thanks to a mysterious plague.

The head of the DMS, the enigmatic Mr. Church, offers Joe a position with the agency and after a moment of reluctance he accepts. The hunt then begins for the source of the plague and the terrorists behind it before they release it and destroy society. It’s a fun and exciting story that’s incredibly well paced and full of well choreographed action scenes. Admittedly in the early part of the book there were some slow scenes where Maberry spent a little too much time focusing on villains instead of his more interesting characters like Ledger, Mr. Church, and the soldiers that make up Ledger’s commando force, Echo Team.

In Ledger, Maberry has a particularly compelling protagonist. He’s extremely capable and dangerous soldier, but he’s still human. At certain points of the story Ledger’s moral cop persona bumps up against into his take no prisoners soldier persona. Plus he’s a guy who feels. Early on we learn a horrible tragedy happened to him when he was young. Plus at different points in the story Ledger comes face to face with some pretty horrific stuff. In the end he weathers it and because it’s the first book in the series you know he’ll be back for more. There is a sense though that Ledger can only keep up these adventures for so long; that sooner or later the horror may even be too much for him. You know until that point though he’ll keep sticking his neck out and that vulnerability and sense of selflessness makes him a pretty compelling hero.

Maberry also surrounds Ledger with an interesting cast of allies. I’ve already mentioned Mister Church and the soldiers of Echo Team. There’s also Doctor Rudy Sanchez, Joe’s best friend and psychiatrist. Rudy also get’s dragged into the shadowy world of the DMS. He may have not be a soldier but Rudy proves to be just as effective and capable character as Joe. At one point he even stands his ground and protects a group of children from a zombie terrorist.

I mentioned that early on the passages with the villains tended to drag a little but but as the book picked up the villains became more interesting. The main villains of the story were violent Muslim fanatics who came up with a plague that turns people into zombies, but they weren’t the only villains of the book. I liked that. In fact the terrorists scheme is made possible by a greedy corporate CEO who wants to exploit the zombie plague to make a profit. It made things feel complex and interesting.

So “Patient Zero” was packed with fun characters and an exciting story that blended moments of zombie horror with exciting action scenes. The hand to hand combat scenes were particularly compelling. Maberry is an experienced martial artist and you can tell from his his hand to hand fights. The way he describes them feel authentic and energy charged.

When you pack all those elements together you get a fun and very cool story. So I loved “Patient Zero” and look forward to Joe Ledger and Echo Team’s next clash with techno terrorists and monster makers

Categories: Book Review, Joe Ledger