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Threat Vector (Jack Ryan, Jr.)
Threat Vector (Jack Ryan, Jr.)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.62

5.0 out of 5 stars The Rare Book I'd Give MORE Than 5 Stars, April 13, 2014
I don't usually read thrillers (mainly fantasy and sci-fi these days) but I have always had a healthy respect for Tom Clancy. My dad's favorite book is Red Storm Rising. I still have his original copy, a beat up paperback missing the cover. He gave it to me to read years ago and it became one of my all time favorite novels. I haven't read all the Clancy novels but Threat Vector feels like a worthy addition to the Ryanverse. In a lot of ways Threat Vector even feels like Red Storm Rising for the 21st century. Cyber warfare is the way of the future and in traditional Clancy fashion all the details are there. There's gripping spycraft, geo-politics, and thrilling combat. I love reading more about Jack Ryan, Jr., John Clark, Ding Chavez and the Campus.

Big props to Mark Greaney, Clancy's co-author. This is the first book I read with his name on it but it prompted me to buy the entire Gray Man series that he wrote solo. This novel also prompted me to buy LOCKED ON and COMMAND AUTHORITY, and revive my interest in techno-thrillers.

The Fell Sword (The Traitor Son Cycle)
The Fell Sword (The Traitor Son Cycle)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Epic Sword & Sorcery, April 8, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Epic Sword & Sorcery.

MY RATING: 5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freshly blooded from the defense of Lissen Carrak, the Red Knight and his company venture to Morea where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Elsewhere in the realm factions move one step closer toward total warfare. Alliances are made and schemes are fulfilled.


PROS: Larger-than-life characters, authentic descriptions, densely woven plot, bold scope, high stakes, complex and mysterious magic, and enthralling action.

CONS: The large cast of the first book is expanded even further, and while the characters are well developed, it results in a slowed pace.

BOTTOM LINE: The sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2013 continues to deliver on the promise of the first book. This series is bound to please fans of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and likely even Historical Fiction.

Along with Django Wexler's The Thousand Names, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron was my favorite fantasy novel of last year. This year both books get sequels (as does my favorite fantasy of 2012, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards) leading me to the conclusion that 2014 is a good year to be a reader. What I loved most about the first book in Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle was the heart of chivalry beating underneath the blood and mud caked breastplate. The Red Knight and his company are mercenaries -- they fight and kill for payment. The combat depicted in these novels is of the gritty variety that is so popular in the Sword & Sorcery sub-genre with the added benefit of being written by a man who understands the restrictions of plate and the weight of a sword. And despite this the stories read like a contemporary take on old Arthurian legends.

The Fell Sword picks up right where The Red Knight left off. The realm is recovering from the massive clash at Lissen Carrak, an unexpected campaign that proved the Wild is still a threat. The Red Knight and his company have accepted a new commission from the Emperor of Morea, but before they arrive at the capital city they find he has been captured and the city is under siege. This new job comes with an array of complications...and opportunities. The siege is lifted but the usurper is not defeated outright and so he retreats to fight another day. The company enters the city and the Red Knight begins to enact plans to rebuild the empire, save the rightful emperor, and destroy his newest adversary. Surrounded by spies and assassins the company soon finds that fighting the creatures of the Wild is preferable to meddling in a civil war.

There's a ridiculous amount more going on in the world during the Red Knight's stay in Morea but for the sake of brevity I'll spare you all the details. The Red Knight boasted a cast much larger than I'm accustomed to reading and The Fell Sword only builds on this. There are a lot of plots and schemes and plans and agendas, and they are all woven together to create a tapestry of deceit and war. If you think there's a lot going on in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (sorry but I refuse to refer to the series as Game of Thrones) then just wait till you get a load of Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle. And honestly I hate to use the George R.R. Martin comparison because it feels so overused and cheap but it's difficult to talk about the current state of fantasy and ignore such an influential author/series.

The fact is that the two series have a lot in common. Both have that sort of historical weight behind them. Both are loaded with schemes and treachery, an aspect that I found could be every bit as thrilling as actual battle when I first read A Game of Thrones. Both have large casts of heroes you love and villains you love to hate. If you enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire then The Traitor Son Cycle is a must read. But the two series aren't exactly the same and The Fell Sword goes far to prove this. It is very much epic fantasy, in a way that I never felt A Song of Ice and Fire was. There is definite good and evil in addition to the moral ambiguity that permeates the novel.

Once you acclimate to the huge cast you'll likely find that you enjoy most every character. The Red Knight has been added to my list of All Time Favorite Characters. The Fell Sword sees our hero trying to rebuild a country while dodging assassination attempts and it displays a whole new aspect of the character -- suggesting that he's not just a brilliant strategist and fighter, but also a natural ruler. I've developed attachments to the various mercenaries of his company: Bad Tom, Sauce, Wilfull Murder, Ser Gavin, Ser Michael, Gelfred, Bent, Long Paw...the list goes on and on. And that's just his company. There are numerous POV's ranging from the Queen of Alba to the powerful sorcerer Thorn and. The Fell Sword gives a fair bit of attention to the Wild, giving it personality beyond monsters from the deep woods. The treacherous Galles also make an appearance, further complicating already complicated matters. What's great is that no matter the actions of the characters they are also so compelling that I love them all. Except for the King of Alba. I love to hate him.

The book is abundant with magic and most of the protagonists are practitioners of Cameron's magic system to some degree. In The Red Knight readers got a taste of how the system works but I found it largely obscure. In the sequel we get a much better grasp of what hermeticism is and how it functions through the perspective of Morgan Mortimir, a young man studying at the Academy in Morea. I still can't say that I completely understand Cameron's magic system but I now know enough that it makes sense. And it's awesome.

The Fell Sword features a lot more talking and negotiating than actual action. Considering that The Red Knight was pretty much one endless, awesome siege I can't complain. With this series Cameron is building towards a cataclysmic war, or more likely given the vast number of moving parts and agendas, wars. What fighting there is to be found is authentic, as I've come to expect after the first book. Cameron's background gives him the knowledge to properly write about pitched combat and he does so with style. Armed combat is brutal. People get hurt. People die. Cameron doesn't shy away from depicting the butchery of battle and the realities of war and he never celebrates it. He is an author with respect for the subject and it is clear from his writing.

I only have two real complaints to air. The first problem is that because of the abundance of POV's I felt as though I didn't get enough of the Red Knight. There was plenty to explain what was going on in his part of the world but I felt somewhat removed from the character himself. This can be attributed to his condition at the end of the first book and his alienation from the rest of the company but as much as I love the character I'd have preferred to spend more time from his perspective. My second problem is a POTENTIAL SPOILER so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The Red Knight and his men (and women) do not trust the Princess of Morea, the daughter of their kidnapped employer. It isn't revealed until near the end why they don't trust the Princess and it shocked me from the plot. It's not a surprising reason but the fact that I had read that far in the book without it being mentioned seemed odd. Something that important really should have been expressed more clearly, earlier on.

Alas, these are two minor complaints when considering how much sheer awesome The Fell Sword has to offer. I would not recommend reading this book without first reading The Red Knight and I'd go so far as to expect re-reading The Red Knight if it has been more than six months since you first read it -- I had trouble remembering some slightly important things when I first picked this up. If you enjoy fantasy books I cannot recommend The Traitor Son Cycle enough. Miles Cameron is steadily building up toward something amazing and I eagerly await the next book in this series.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Age of Shiva (Pantheon)
Age of Shiva (Pantheon)
by James Lovegrove
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.09
46 used & new from $3.51

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gods with Capes!, March 27, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Possibly Lovegrove’s best yet.

MY RATING: 5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A team of godlike super-powered beings based on the ten avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology is assembled, but are they in fact a harbinger of apocalypse?


PROS: Original take on superheroes, exploration of a vivid and colorful religion, sympathetic protagonist, deft plotting, great action.

CONS: Not enough development of the Avatars.

BOTTOM LINE: A combination of science fiction and mythology, superheroes and deities, further solidifying Lovegrove’s title as Godpunk King.

I’ve been a devoted fan of James Lovegrove since I first read The Age of Zeus, his second Pantheon novel. Each year I anticipate the release of the next Pantheon novel. As far as running series go, this is one of my favorite. Six novels and three novellas (collected in one omnibus) in and Lovegrove continues to thrill. There’s no over-arcing plot and no recurring characters. It’s a series united in theme rather than narrative, a technique that results in a cohesive whole while continually managing to change up the dynamic that makes the Pantheon novels so compelling. With Lovegrove novels you always know what to expect and yet he still manages to subvert these expectations. You’re always going to get solid prose, dry English humor, a gripping mix of science fiction and mythology, and ultimately a clever plot. Age of Shiva is tied for my favorite novel in the series. Here’s why…

The first hook of Age of Shiva? This time around Lovegrove explores Hinduism. With each new Pantheon novel Lovegrove delves into a whole new…well, pantheon. It’s worth noting that this is always done in a respectful manner. Lovegrove does his research and, in doing so, encourages readers to do their own. Going into Age of Shiva I knew next to nothing about Hinduism. After having read the book I’m intrigued by the religion and intend to read more on the subject. With each new Pantheon novel Lovegrove also examines a new way for humans to interact with these deities — this is the core of the godpunk subgenre. In doing so science fiction is often married with mythology to present a whole new take on age old tales.

“We had been telling ourselves tales about super beings and their outlandish feats for centuries. Comic book superheroes were just the latest iteration of an age-old trope.”

The second hook? The Hindu pantheon in Age of Shiva is a superhero team — and it fits. This book is like The Avengers meets The Watchmen, but with an Indian twist. In the Hindu belief, the Dashavatara refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the God of universal preservation. In Age of Shiva, the Dashavatara is a team of superheroes assembled by the Trinity Syndicate (a trio of billionaires with grand designs). I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll avoid explaining too much about the team, save that the Dashavatara (or Avatars as they are also known) makes for a really cool group. It would seem that the devas (or deities) of Hinduism translate well into the world of comic book superheroes. Likewise the asuras (portrayed as a type of demon) make for great super villains. The whole dynamic is colorful and exotic — this is where the third hook comes in.

Introducing Zachary “Zap” Bramwell, comic artist and geek extraordinaire. Zak is a diligent artist, a perfectionist even, but a bad boyfriend. On his way to the cafe one day he receives an offer to design the costumes for the Dashavatara — an offer he literally cannot refuse. And why would he? A chance to work with real superheroes and the responsibility to create a look that will represent them to the world! It’s a nerd’s wet dream come true. Of course, an offer so good is bound to come with strings attached… Zak Zap is a strong protagonist. His perspective is a highly readable mix of geeky references and dry English snark. Zak Zap is perhaps Lovegrove’s most down-to-earth hero to date, an everyman in a way that falls back on the mantra, “What would Jack Kirby do?” In my case, and I suspect in many others, Zak Zap represents the reader him/herself.

One of my few disappointments was that the members of the Dashavatara felt underdeveloped. This is understandable, given that there are ten Avatars in all. It would have taken a much larger book to detail the backstory behind each deva — but that’s something I would have appreciated. As a comic reader I find that the most interesting stories involve the personal lives of the heroes, and how their caped crusading conflicts with these lives. Age of Shiva feels like the first book in the series that could be further expanded into its own mini-series. Perhaps this can be attributed to its ties to comics, but I would love to read about the further exploits of the Dashavatara. The world is very much changed by the end of the novel and though it wraps up nicely there are a number of directions that Lovegrove could go in. I don’t expect Lovegrove to do this, but if he were to I think it would be very cool. He has an excellent superhero team on his hands, one of the more interesting and original concepts I’ve seen even. And if he wanted to pursue a comic adaptation that would also be very, very cool.

The plotting, as always, is fast paced and clever. As I said earlier, readers know that to expect from Lovegrove and yet he still manages to deliver surprises. No two Pantheon novels are alike, and Age of Shiva is probably the biggest departure to date. There are twists, turns, brinkmanship, WMD proliferation, and plenty of super-powered action. The sci-fi elements are grounded in comic book science. The real kicker here is the mythology. Towards the end of the novel there’s a lump of exposition that combines Hinduism and conspiracy theories…it’s told in such a convincing manner that for a second I was prepared to start watching the History Channel programming again (not with incredulity but acceptance). Well done Lovegrove.

On another note it’s a shame that Marek Okon is no longer providing the cover illustrations for the Pantheon series. Jake Murray turns out to be an excellent replacement. The Age of Shiva cover is top-notch, successfully visualizing the Dashavatara. Add to this that he’s able to match Okon’s style, keeping the covers of the series consistent. I only wish that I could see Murray’s interpretation of each of the ten (eleven) Avatars.

Age of Shiva is simply awesome. Once again James Lovegrove has subverted and exceeded expectations. Hinduism is one of the most interesting belief systems the Pantheon series has yet explored, and throwing super heroes into the mix turned out to be the coup de grâce. This novel proves that there are plenty of original ways to explore godpunk — may there be many more Pantheon novels to come!

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel
Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel
by Jonathan Maberry
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.52
52 used & new from $7.78

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return of the Return of the Dead, March 25, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Code Zero? More like Code Awesome!

MY RATING: 4 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A new foe has resurrected old threats. With DMS already spread thin, can Joe Ledger and Echo Team end a wave of bio-terrorism that is sweeping the nation?


PROS: Best villain in the series to date, nice buildup, Joe Ledger’s trademark wit, phenomenal finale, big potential changes in store for the future.

CONS: Pacing issues due to interludes.

BOTTOM LINE: The series is still going strong and Code Zero is one of the best entries yet.

Another year, another Joe Ledger Novel — the sixth in the series to be precise. It’s a series I’ve been following since the beginning, a series that has had its fair share of high and low points. Joe Ledger’s dry wit and Jonathan Maberry’s twisted imagination keep me coming back repeatedly. The Joe Ledger novels are like 24 meets X-Files; it’s like Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series rooted in science rather than mysticism. The bio-terror threats that Captain Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences face are chilling and creative. Code Zero is, in many ways, a culmination of the past five novels as well as a more direct sequel to Patient Zero (book one). Code Zero is also among the better novels in the series, ranking just below Assassin’s Code (my favorite) and Extinction Machine.

Code Zero is a slow-burner in comparison to the rest of the series, though I consider this a good thing. Maberry takes his time setting up the dominoes before he goes about blowing them to splinters. As Joe states early on in the novel, “This one started weird and stayed weird, and for most of it felt like we were swinging punches at shadows.” Thus far in the series, Joe Ledger and Echo Team have tackled zombies, genetically altered super soldiers, vampires, and (maybe) alien technology. Code Zero sees our heroes fighting threats from the nightmares of their past, with an emphasis on the Seif al Din pathogen that kills and then reanimates, turning its victims into zombies.

A lot of Joe Ledger fans will consider this reason to celebrate — I tend to find zombies boring and groan-inducing and yet I can admit that Maberry has a real knack for writing them. Still, I was a little disappointed that Seif al Din would be making a return. I’m more interested in Maberry trying new things, after all this is the man that made vampires terrifying again in Assassin’s Code. The combined threat keeps things spicy however, and Code Zero’s big baddie is the best villain Joe has faced yet.

The following may be considered a minor spoiler. I figured out the identity of Mother Night rather early on in the novel, but if you’d prefer not to chance anything go ahead and skip the next paragraph (in italics).

Maberry develops Mother Night, the “anarchist” mastermind, over the course of the novel. Readers get to follow Mother on her descent into evil. Often the baddies of the Joe Ledger novels come across as cartoony Bond villains. Mother, though over-the-top in true Maberry fashion, is fully developed. There are true motivations behind her actions and her story is, if not tragic, then at least unfortunate. She is the most devious enemy the DMS has ever faced and it makes for compelling reading. The development is expressed via interludes that progress the story but break up the action and pacing due to the frequency. It’s a double-edge sword.

Okay, it’s safe to read again! Everyone’s favorite characters return, from Captain Joe Ledger (gold medalist of the Sarcasm Olympics) to his dog Ghost. Church, Aunt Sallie, Top Sims, Bunny, Doctor Rudy Sanchez, Doctor Hu, Bug, Violin, and Junie all make appearances. Being spread thin, DMS recruits some new shooters though I wouldn’t bother getting attached to any of them — by now any operators that aren’t Ledger, Top, or Bunny can probably be considered red shirts). Ghost is as cute as ever and Rudy isn’t nearly as annoying as I’ve come to expect (dios mio!) and I’ve even come around to liking Junie. I feel as though I judged her relationship with Joe unfairly in my review of Extinction Machine, book five. The fit between Joe and Junie is actually quite convincing and adds an unexpected layer of complication to affairs. Junie is a much-needed calm-in-the-storm for Joe, a man whose fractured psyche is barely held together, a man who is growing more weary and cynical with each case.

Mother Night’s reign of terror is…well, terrifying. The chaos that she and her minions unleash on America during Labor Day weekend is extensive. There were moments while reading Code Zero when I was forced to put down the book and fight cold chills. This is bio-terrorism at its worst and the body count reflects it. The action of Code Zero is somewhat understated, reflecting the slow-burner nature of the book, but it’s as grisly and high-octane as ever. Given the nature of the threats that Joe Ledger faces and his training you would suspect that he’d carry along something more potent than a puny little 9mm, but aside from that the rest of the action reads right. The finale is spectacular! It’s the sort of finale that begs to be played out on the big screen. The rest of the book’s end, the epilogue, left a bit to be desired. After 400+ pages of buildup and an action sequence to put the rest of the series to shame, the book ends too quickly.

Minor complaints aside, Code Zero is a great addition to the Joe Ledger novels. Joe Ledger fans are bound to love it, it’s a game changer. I fully expect to see some big changes by the time Predator One, book seven, comes out next year. And with a title like Predator One, how can it not be awesome?

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Pandemic: A Novel
Pandemic: A Novel
by Scott Sigler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.68
71 used & new from $10.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars World War P (for Pandemic), February 21, 2014
This review is from: Pandemic: A Novel (Hardcover)
REVIEW SUMMARY: Broader appeal and grand in scope.

MY RATING: 4 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Orbital may be gone, but when its legacy resurfaces it's up to Doctor Margaret Montoya to put an end to the alien nightmare forever.


PROS: Strong characters, large scope, intense action, intelligently written science fiction.

CONS: Slow start, lack of a shock-factor, weak ending.

BOTTOM LINE: A global biological disaster thriller that neatly wraps up a beloved series.

Pandemic is the third Scott Sigler book I've read. The first Sigler novel I read was Infected, the beginning of the trilogy that Pandemic closes out. The body horror and psychological thrills exhibited in Infected shocked me to say the least. It read like an Eli Roth adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite the protagonist's compelling personal plight I found the overall plot to be lacking and the characters largely unsympathetic. The second Sigler novel I read was Nocturnal, the start of a different series. I wasn't completely sold on Nocturnal but I could recognize Sigler's improvement as an author. It was a much tighter story with better plotting. Unfortunately it seemed to suffer the same issues with unlikeable characters. I'm happy to say that Pandemic continues the trend of improvement, delivering a solid bio-horror thriller, large in scope and populated with sympathetic characters.

Yes I skipped Contagious, the middle book in the trilogy, and it has been a couple years since I read Infected but I didn't feel too out of my element when I picked up Pandemic. Through the perspective of Doctor Margaret Montoya, maligned savior of the human race, Sigler steadily fills in the details of the second book for those who might have missed it. In the time since the conclusion of Contagious, Montoya has been wallowing in self-loathing for her decision that led to the nuking of Detroit and the deaths of her friends. She is thrust back into action when Director Murray calls on her to investigate a new outbreak of the alien virus, believed (or at least hoped) to be eradicated. Montoya is rushed off to a Navy task force stationed in Lake Michigan -- a task force responsible for quarantining the remains of the alien "Orbital" responsible for so much death and destruction. This is where, through a series of unfortunate events, the virus escapes containment and spreads across the world...

I don't remember liking Margaret Montoya when I read Infected, but then again I don't remember liking any of the characters of that book. The Margaret of Pandemic presents someone I can empathize with. She is damaged. She has done her duty, fighting against the spread of this alien doomsday weapon, and has little to show for it. Her friends are dead, her marriage in shambles, and much of America hates her. She spends her days cooped up in the house reading the hateful comments of trolls online when she should be celebrated for her quick-thinking and heroism. And despite all this, when the alien threat rears its ugly head once more Margaret barely hesitates to jump back into the fray. She's a doctor, a scientist, first and foremost. It's admirable. And if I don't remember liking Margaret Montoya I don't remember Agent Clarence Otto at all. I can't say he makes much more of an impression in Pandemic, other than being a dutiful, abuse-taking lackey of Margaret's.

Pandemic does introduce several new characters, my favorite of which was Doctor Tim "Feelygood" Feely. Tim provided the necessary levity (the possible end of the humanity is some heavy stuff) and acted as an interesting foil to the duty-bound Margaret and the patriotic Clarence. Through self-deprecation and self-interest Tim feels like a real person, a brilliant scientist that doesn't mind living ostentatiously off the government's dime. Tim flirts with Margaret and antagonizes Clarence, all the while keeping his own survival in mind. He's a bit of a weasel at first but he has the most satisfying character arc of all.

What I really appreciate about the characters of Pandemic is that no one is safe. To fans of the series this should already be abundantly clear given the deaths of several main characters in Contagious. It adds a sense of danger to proceedings that is welcome in such a tense, thriller environment - if Sigler could kill "X" and "Y"in the second book, who is he willing to kill in the finale? And the answer to that is...well a good portion of the world. My girlfriend says she likes it in books and movies "when the bomb actually goes off." What she means by this is that things get really interesting when things don't go according to plan, when the hero fails to prevent the terrorist and there's a catastrophic loss of life. It's grim, but I can't say I disagree. Especially when it comes to thrillers. I've had enough of these near disasters, what do the heroes do when Pandora's Box is opened? That's sort of what Pandemic is. The entire trilogy is about escalation. Infected is very personal, it's about one man's struggle for the most part. Contagious is about a city. Pandemic is about the world. Granted, the world is at stake in each of these stories but the stakes never seem higher than they do in this third and final novel.

I had a love/hate relationship with the first half of the book. I find the science behind the alien virus to be extremely engrossing. I won't pretend to understand it all, but Sigler does a good job of making it digestible to even the layman. I really enjoyed the tendency of the alien virus to adapt and learn from its mistakes, resulting in some creations straight from the video game Left 4 Dead. I loved reading about the lab research conducted by Margaret and Tim -- from the precautions they had to take to the procedures they used. Unfortunately this left the book feeling a little static. The more active part of the story involves Chinese American college student Steve Stanton, a very skilled robotics engineer and spy for China. Steve approaches a pair of failing businessmen capable of deep water salvage operations on Lake Michigan in order to get near the Orbital crash site. Steve, and the two entrepreneurs (Cooper and Jeff) are all interesting characters. These characters add some motion to the plot early on, but the first half of the book still felt slow. This is remedied by around the midway point with the proverbial opening of Pandora's Box so to speak. From that point forward Sigler throws Pandemic into overdrive.

It's a full blown zombie outbreak, except that these zombies aren't mindless, can use tools, and are able to organize. So really it's not a zombie outbreak at all. It's much, much more interesting. Watching the world go straight to hell is a blast. Sigler paints a vivid picture of a nation and a world overwhelmed by the enemy within. There's courage and cowardice, insurgency and nuclear warfare. I also have to give Sigler props for not turning the religious conservative president into a lazy caricature, instead showing that dire times call for leadership above partisanship. I didn't pick up any overtly political vibes from Pandemic (aside from a bit of heat directed at anti-vaxxers) and I found that to be particularly refreshing. The action is intense and the Battle of Chicago is particularly awesome, with Navy SEALs and Apache helicopters...

There's lots of moral ambiguity, including medical testing on unwilling subjects and making tough decisions on the battlefield. The survival of the human race is on the line and the decisions made and the actions that result reflect this thoroughly. I will admit be disappointed in the lack of a shock-factor. With both of the previous Sigler books I read I was surprised at some of the content (specifically the self-mutilation of Infected). Keep in mind that Pandemic is gruesome but lacks some of that bite that I found at once disturbing and compelling. I will say that the toned-down nature of this book gives it a much broader appeal to people who aren't fans of the SAW brand of "torture porn," and that's a considerably wise move. My final complaint is that the book resolves a little too quickly and cleanly. After nearly 600 pages the ending is slightly abrupt.

I mostly enjoyed reading Scott Sigler's Pandemic. It's always cool to watch an author's craft progress over time and it's evident that Sigler is getting better and better at what he does. Pandemic is large in scope and well written, with the best characterization I've yet seen out of Sigler. It reads like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Crazies but on a global scale. It's smart but fun, a fitting conclusion to a well-loved series.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

Dead Eye (A Gray Man Novel)
Dead Eye (A Gray Man Novel)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.80
62 used & new from $6.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Thriller!, January 28, 2014
I just spent the month binge-reading the Gray Man novels. It's going to be difficult to come off the adrenaline high, that's a guarantee. I still have two more Mark Greaney books to read, LOCKED ON and COMMAND AUTHORITY (both with Clancy), but I think I'll save those for when the withdrawal really hits. DEAD EYE is another great entry to the Gray Man series, it's tied with BALLISTIC for my favorite.

The series has gotten progressively better as it goes on. DEAD EYE doesn't delve into the character of protagonist Court Gentry in quite the way BALLISTIC does, but it does offer some really high notes in terms of action and overall series development. How Greaney imagines these crazy assassination scenarios, I have no idea but DEAD EYE starts off with Court's most insane hit to date. What I liked most about DEAD EYE is that it gives readers a look at those hunting Court. We get to see how they handle tracking the most dangerous assassin on the planet.

Oh, and Kiev? We finally get to find out about what happened in Kiev! It's pretty dang wild. Something only Court Gentry, the Gray Man, could pull off.

I'm really excited about what direction the next book might take. Really, really excited. I'll wait anxiously for Greaney's next awesome thriller.

Ballistic (Gray Man)
Ballistic (Gray Man)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.19
123 used & new from $1.66

5.0 out of 5 stars A Mexican Standoff, January 22, 2014
This review is from: Ballistic (Gray Man) (Paperback)
Mark Greaney's Gray Man series is an unstoppable juggernaut, much like Court Gentry himself. Three books in and it keeps getting better and better. The plots get deeper, the pacing better, the action more thrilling, and the characters more complex. BALLISTIC is easily the most personal of the Gray Man novels to date, with Court Gentry taking up a crusade in the name of a former friend. Mexico turns out to be the most dangerous locale yet, with all it's corrupt cops and cartel thugs.

Readers get a glimpse into Court's past. As a character Court is fleshed out even further. He's a killer with a heart (though he'll deny it) and his own conscience is his greatest vulnerability. The Gray Man is as efficient and creative a killer as ever but his skills are put to the test as he's charged with the responsibility of protecting others. Court even gets a brief, but well deserved, moment of tenderness before being thrust back into the killing field.

I'm churning through the series at a high pace. I'll be starting DEAD EYE, the latest installment in the series once I wrap up this review. It'll be torture to wait for the next book in the series, that's for sure. Am I the only one hoping for a prequel that touches on the events in Kiev? Anyway, enough review. Time to get on with DEAD EYE.

On Target (A Gray Man Novel)
On Target (A Gray Man Novel)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.99
69 used & new from $3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Sudan, Next Stop on The Gray Man World Tour, January 17, 2014
I can't read books by the same author, in the same series, back to back. It's just an idiosyncrasy I have. Despite that I just finished reading ON TARGET by Mark Greaney. Before that I read THE GRAY MAN. And before that I read Greaney's collaboration with Clancy, THREAT VECTOR. As soon as I finish this review I intend to start on BALLISTIC. I cannot get enough of this spy/assassin thriller business. I'm lovin' it.

ON TARGET succeeds as a sequel. I enjoyed THE GRAY MAN (who wouldn't enjoy nonstop action) but I found it a little lacking in the character/plot department. ON TARGET shows much improvement in Greaney as an author and Court Gentry as a character. Gentry as a new employer but the same weakness -- he's a contract killer with a heart. While reading THE GRAY MAN this felt a little bland and predictable. With the second book I appreciate this vulnerability quite a bit more. It makes Gentry's life more difficult. It throws a wrench into his carefully laid plans. Sure, sometimes you want to slap him for being too good a guy. But then he goes and slays a ton of scumbags and you forget about it. This time around Gentry is also dealing with a new weakness -- a drug addiction resultant of the last book. It adds another convincing layer to the character.

ON TARGET also introduces a few more characters. I was a big fan of Sierra One, aka Zachary Hightower, Gentry's former squad commander. Likewise, Sid Sidorenko is an interesting player that I expect to see more of. And, of course, Ellen Walsh manages to get under Gentry's skin and drag out some more details of his personality.

The action is top notch and the gear/procedures seem to be well researched. The writing is clean and the pacing energetic. Greaney also managed to infuse a bit of geopolitics to ON TARGET that really makes it shine. Anyway I'm tired of writing this review so...onto BALLISTIC!

The Gray Man (A Gray Man Novel)
The Gray Man (A Gray Man Novel)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.66
88 used & new from $1.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Jason Bourne ain't got nothin' on Court Gentry, January 13, 2014
THREAT VECTOR was my first exposure to Mark Greaney, and I loved it. I immediately bought LOCKED ON (I didn't realize that I should have read LOCKED ON first) and Command Authority. And then I ordered Greaney's Court Gentry series. Having just finished The Gray Man I'm already ready to start reading ON TARGET, once I finish this review that is.

I'm not totally sold on Gentry as a character yet. For a paid killer he's somewhat vanilla. I'm hoping that he will develop as the series goes on, as he's pretty much a blank canvas at the moment. Aside from being burned as a CIA operative and a tendency to act as a paladin, even when it endangers his mission, he's not much of a person. He's more of a living weapon. And that's cool. Maybe that's what real operators are like (how would I know), maybe that's how you have to be in order to kill and survive. But I'm going to hold out hope that he develops some more defining characteristics.

That complaint aside THE GRAY MAN is one hell of a read. It moves along at a break neck pace. There's no politics or relationships to slow things down, just nonstop action. Court moves from one dire situation to the next and handles each with believable skill. He's no James Bond. He's no Jason Bourne either. And I do like that about Court. He's a cold hard killer. He's not suave. He's just deadly. And he has wear and tear, just as an operator in such a situation might. Each fight decreases Court's ability to fight, he doesn't come out of any battle unscathed.

And the action is killer! It is nonstop. Gunfights, knife fights, fist fights. Chases and narrow escapes. It seems to me as though Greaney did a fair amount of research into how such operators behave. For a book loaded with action it's a testament to Greaney's imagination that I did not suffer from battle fatigue. Each fight was dynamic and different, the stakes always high despite the knowledge that Court would continue to live and kill for at least 3 more books.

Anyway, enough reviewing -- I'm going to start ON TARGET.

Iron Night: A Generation V Novel
Iron Night: A Generation V Novel
by M.L. Brennan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
53 used & new from $4.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Who Knew Elves Could Be So Damn Scary?, January 7, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Amazing sequel that sees a stronger plot and even greater character development.

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Someone or something is killing humans in a particularly gruesome way and it just happened to pick the wrong target - the roommate of Fortitude Scott. Fort, now being brought up to speed on the family business, pursues the killer with vengeance in mind, but he might have stumbled onto something far more dangerous than a common murderer.

PROS: Fortitude is really coming into his own, Suzume is as awesome as ever, the family dynamic is developing interestingly, the elves are 50 shades of creepy, and the plot itself is an improvement.

CONS: The final showdown was a little too short.

BOTTOM LINE: I haven't been this excited about a series in a long time. This is urban fantasy at its best, with a strong focus on characters and relationships and an awesome take on established creatures.

M.L. Brennan's debut novel, Generation V, turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Great characters and a unique vampire mythos made for a powerful read. The fact that Brennan was able to sell me on a vegetarian vampire is a testament to her talent. After reading Generation V I was immediately left wanting more of Fortitude Scott and Suzume Hollis. Fortunately I did not have to wait long as a review copy of the sequel, Iron Night, came in the mail a few weeks later. Despite a hectic school schedule I finished the novel in almost no time, staying awake way past my self mandated bedtime in order to get another chapter (or two) in. Generation V was an impressive debut but Iron Night is a standout sophomore effort - dodging the slump in order to deliver an even more compelling story.

Fortitude Scott is the most refreshing urban fantasy protagonist I have read in years (maybe ever to be completely honest). He's not some grizzled, hard boiled badass full of sarcasm and self importance. He's a college graduate from a family of vampires, trying to find his way in the world. I quickly grew attached to Fort in Generation V. He's a decent guy with a useless degree in film theory who fears his very DNA. Reading Iron Night I was continually pleased at the level of character development from Fort. As the book opens he has been learning the ins and outs of the family trade from his brother Chivalry, keeping the supernatural peace and enforcing the laws of his mother, Madeline Scott. It's the same lovable Fort from the first book with an added layer of responsibility - and protest it though he might, it's a duty that fits him like a glove. Over the course of Iron Night Fort is forced to make difficult decisions and it's a treat to watch how he handles each situation. Unlike many urban fantasy protagonists, Fort deploys a variety of tactics for mysteries. He doesn't apply violence often but he also isn't afraid to use it to get the desired results.

The family angle was a big selling point in Generation V, and it looks like it will be a major attraction of the entire series as it is only reinforced in Iron Night. There's the Scott family, comprised of the matriarch Madeline, the sociopath enforcer Prudence, the more diplomatic Chivalry, and of course Fortitude, the runt of the litter. Madeline is a bit of an enigma. She is a serious power broker, the supernatural Godfather (or Godmother for that matter) of the East Coast. Her agenda is not readily apparent, but however cold and calculating she appears she is also a loving mother. Granted, a loving mother of a variety different to normal expectations, but still. Prudence is less of a mystery than her mother. Prudence wants power and she wants to be out from underneath the command of Madeline. She plays a much bigger role in Iron Night, further complicating her already complex relationship with Fortitude. Chivalry gets less screen time this go around in order to make room for Prudence. The trade is worth while, though I did miss Chivalry's presence.

With Madeline Scott's power waning in her old age it appears as though a battle may be brewing for control of the Scott dynasty. I suspect that while Chivalry may be preparing Fortitude to protect the family territory, Madeline has loftier plans for our underemployed hero. This is all speculation of course, but a truly good book will leave you considering possible directions that future entries in the series might take.

Continuing the family theme is of course Suzume's family. Suzume, the kitsune that stole the show in Generation V, is back and devious as ever. Suze's family comes more into the foreground with the introduction of her sister. One of my few issues with the first book was that Suzume tended to overshadow Fortitude with her charged personality. Brennan manages to solve this - not by dialing Suzume back, but by delivering an even more compelling character in Fort. The relationship between the two is even better this time around as unresolved conflicts crop up. Suzume treats Fort a little more gently in Iron Night, due to the loss of his roommate, but never fear as the trickster in her still surfaces from time to time. The inclusion of the half-elf Lilah spices things up. And that of course leads us to the elves.

Brennan's elves are on par with her vampires. The elves of Iron Night are seriously twisted - more the product of Guillermo del Toro's worst nightmare than Tolkien's friendly fair folk. Between the incest and the sociopathy, the elves come across as truly terrifying creatures. It's pretty cool, because I don't think I've ever considered elves scary before but here it is. Despite a super gross family tree, not all of the elf kin are evil and Lilah is a welcome addition to the Fortitude/Suzume dynamic. She sweet and thoughtful halfsie is a wonderful foil to Suzume.

The plot of Iron Night is much stronger than Generation V, complete with really awesome moments (I'm particularly fond of the undercover speed dating). The villain(s) this time around are far better than the big bad in the first book. This can be chalked up to motivation, as villains with good justification for their crimes are the best villains of all. The romantic subplot is played up a bit more in this novel than the previous one, though it still continues to feel wholly organic. None of the characters lack agency, and I'm confident that whatever should develop will be believable and awesome. My only real complaint with Iron Night is that the final showdown is short lived. All the buildup had me looking forward to a monumental knock-down-drag-out, and while it was fierce it was also over too quickly. To be fair, the rest of the book was so good I don't really care, but there it is - my single criticism.
Iron Night is freaking awesome. Brennan has made vampires cool again, elves creepy, and urban fantasy feel fresh. In an over saturated genre this is no small feat. Fortitude Scott is a hero worth cheering for. He's easy to empathize with, yet stands as a role model for justice (vigilante though it might be). This is truly a series with heart and I wish it a long run and Brennan many a success. I won't be happy until this series is picked up for a crime procedural. I've actually given it a lot of thought and I think that the team behind USA Network's Psych is the perfect group to make it happen. It would have the perfect mix of comedy and drama, lots of buddy-cop fun and great scripts. But I'll return to my coffin and dream my sweet dreams of urban fantasy television glory until the sun sets...

Nick Sharps
SF Signal

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