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Ironheart (The Serenity Strain Book 2) Kindle Edition
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"Bones Don't Lie" by Melinda Leigh
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I feel ambiguous about this installment of the Apocalypse Weird shared universe. The first book was an excellent tale of a family’s struggle to survive during and after a hurricane, and tension built as the ‘patients’ escaped their confines and began their rampage.
The starting concept for the specific nature of the subhuman rampagers was intriguing, instead of the walking dead or a diet drug that turns people into cannibals, we have an attempt to genetically rewrite the DNA of murderers which backfires.
There are some elements of the greater storyarc that may prove invaluable, and the intro of a character from the novel Tunnel Rats was the most intriguing element of the second, but the story in the second book feels padded and the amount of villain perspectives didn’t add to the story.
Well-written, and like all the Apocalypse Weird books it has a strong sense of place, and the characters are the strongest suit. The author starts off with one character, only to see what I assumed would be a supporting character move into a heroic role. Likewise, the author could have easily made Stavros a stereotypical egghead character, but instead he rises to the occasion.
However, the villains themselves never gelled with me. I didn’t find them worth the amount of words they got, and the overtly supernatural element, the goddess of chaos and appetite, I did not find alien and overwhelming.
King's "The Stand" was much too long and detailed (I never did read any more Stephen King after that), but Pourteau exercises more word economy and tautly rendered scenes, and he keeps the books short. Maybe when this series is complete, it will have as many pages as King's iconic apocalyptic paranormal horror thriller, but for today's short-attention-spanners with or without the ADHD label, Pourteau's books are like Baby Bear's size for Goldilock: just right!
Also, it seems unfair to give a book 4 stars just because I'm not a fan of the genre and I cannot love the villain (she of the green eyes and writing red hair and overwhelming sexuality). Peter, I kinda/sorta have to love, in spite of my better judgment. Stavros, that pompous a@s, is not a villain, per se, and he never knows when to shut up, and at times I can't stand the guy, but this is proof of the writer bringing a character to life and allowing me to forget that I'm reading a story. I'm so pulled in, I'm *living* the story. And I don't WANT to live in a post-apocalypse with a nympho-goddess controlling the ignorant masses, much less mesmerising the more intelligent few among the human race. So, even though I can't "love" the genre, and I have to go one better than to "like" the book in terms of rating 4 vs 5 stars.
Also, there's the science. How can I not love a novelist who speaks genetics?
NOTE: My complete review of Books 1 and 2 was published at Perihelion Science Fiction ezine, June 2016. Excerpts below:
A SCIENCE EXPERIMENT GONE WRONG unleashes a genetic Pandora’s Box in “Stormbreak (The Serenity Strain Book 1)” by Chris Pourteau. Hoping to heal violent prisoners and make them more docile, a professor engineers the Serenity Virus. He inadvertently creates six super-psychopaths instead. Snappy dialogue, vivid characters, and taut prose keep the pace fast and furious.
In “Stormbreak,” three apocalyptic hurricanes ravage the Earth. A nympho villainess known as Id lures the mutant felons to her new stronghold in Texas, where they gain followers, escalate the carnage, and celebrate their psychopathy with public displays of carnal glee. Is anything sane and human left? Yes. Her name is Lauryn. A cold, sober corrections official, she’s forced to team up with her cheating husband, their teen daughter, and the family dog while searching for survivors in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
At this point in almost every apocalyptic novel, I marvel at how people risk life and limb to get to a ruined town in hopes of finding Mom still alive. Don’t do it! Don’t go there! But they never listen, and bad things always come of it.
That’s one reason I rarely spend much time summarizing plots. The other is that I’m accused of too many spoilers, no matter how many details and events I’m leaving out. That said, of course I’ll warn readers that someone is gonna die. You know this. I know you know this! Doesn’t anyone else get angry at authors who coerce you into entering the world that hatched inside their heads, get us to care about these imaginary friends of his, only to bump off some of them?
Fists of rage shaking at Chris Pourteau, I will pass over in silence the carnage and the body count, and focus on the part that hooked me in the first place: the science.
The Serenity Virus itself doesn’t exist, Pourteau informs us in the Afterword, but most of the genetic stuff Dr. Eamon Stavros tinkers with is scary-real. With Stavros and his creator, Pourteau, I believe “the promise for science eradicating illness and behavioral issues from humanity has never been greater than it is stormbreaktoday,” but it’s a long, dark road to the cure. It’s one thing to discover our genetic impulse control center, as French and Finnish researchers have with the HTR2B gene, not to mention the Chinese, MAGE, or MIT-developed “multiplex automated genome engineering” technology used for cutting and pasting genetic sequences. It’s another thing to try controlling that biological control center.
Pourteau makes good use of a classic theme in science fiction—“the danger from tinkering with the inner workings of the body’s clock, the most miraculous (and delicately balanced) of machines ever created.” He also pulls us, far too deftly for my comfort, into the horror of being a human in the path of a hurricane.
“Ah, for the days when our greatest worries were simpler,” he quips in that Afterword, “less about a genetic genie escaping a laboratory bottle and more about how best we could avoid Mother Nature’s wrath. Maybe, when you think about it, hurricanes aren’t so bad after all.”
Oh, yes they are. At least in this story, they’re as bad as Peter Marsten, the ringleader of the prisoners infected with the failed Serenity Strain.
Stunned civilians stumble out of their homes, pillage the remnants of gas stations and WalMarts, and hide from, fight, or join the marauding “Serenity Strain” felons. Lauryn is tough enough to battle the felons who were once under her charge, but now they have a queen who blew in with the storms, a powerful temptress known as Id.
IT TAKES MORE THAN ONE battle to win a war, and “Ironheart (The Serenity Strain Book 2)” brings us to the next stage. “Ironheart,” continues the theme of ordinary people becoming heroes, even the pompous Herr Professor Stavros. Colt is a mysterious newcomer foreseen by the suddenly intuitive, mysterious teen daughter, Megan. While the sleazy Id and Marsten’s army of escaped prisoners move south to enslave the Bayou City, a new threat comes from another corner of the multiverse. Id speaks ominously (well, for her, it’s gleefully) of “He Who Is Yet to Come,” but by the end of Book 2, we’re left shaking our fists at Pourteau and demanding that “He” will hurry it up in Book 3.
Much as Id grates on me—a tribute to the author, one must concede—I have to say no antihero is more authentic and annoying than Eamon Stavros, who is quickly humironheartbled in Book 1. I can’t help but love his passion for science, his ability to say “I was wrong.” Maybe in Book 3, he’ll figure out what turned his test subjects into even more dangerous, homicidal, psychopathic human beings. Meanwhile, he still talks too much and still irks Lauryn in Book 2. I have great hopes for him. Anyone that annoying is certain to become endearing, eventually. (At least, that’s how it works in fiction; sadly, in real life, it generally takes years, if not whole lifetimes, to learn to love certain neighbors, co-workers or family members.)
Have I failed to convey the horror of not one, but three, massive hurricanes ravaging the planet? Pourteau, a lifelong resident of the Texas Gulf Coast, recreates the dry, lifeless tone of an automated announcer warning terrified listeners of the impending disaster. “Can you imagine hearing that come over your radio before the bad weather hit?” he writes (again with the Afterword to Book One; bear with me). “Sometimes, life hands us events far more horrific than anything the most creative of fiction writers could ever come up with.”
Hence the old saw, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
In all, this series is a thorough mixing of hard science fiction and a bit of fantasy. At the root is genetic mutation, which has always been hard science fiction fodder, and the too believable aftermath of three major hurricanes. Megan’s mysticism may not be typical of our favorite genre, but Colt fits right in, regardless of where he really came from. (Yes, I know, it’ll come out in Book 3. Or else. You listening, Pourteau?)
Even if “Ironheart” reminds you of Stephen King’s “The Stand,” or Tolkien’s villain in “Lord of the Rings,” Pourteau leaves us no doubt as to his passion for science fiction. Before he worked as a lab technician helping to recover one of Christopher Columbus’ ships, then as a technical writer and editor, Pourteau was a die-hard Star Trek fan. Now he’s co-host of the new “Geeks of a Certain Age (GoaCA)” podcast with Hank Garner. Two buddies in their 40s talk about stuff they’ve loved since they were twelve and spread their passion for All Things Geek. Google it.
Between the podcast and the prose, the complex characters, the intriguing plot, and quiet interludes of introspection in between all the battles, bloodlust and just plain lust, it’s no mystery how a middle-aged geek from Texas got me to read the kind of book I normally avoid. (“Ironheart: The Serenity Strain, Book 2,
At the same time, welcome to a tour of just that part of Texas that lies along on top a major highway between Dallas or Houston. Currently it is difficult to really know where Houston ends and the next town begins.
Plenty of action and the story left me wanting more.
I did receive an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. I must also admit that I enjoy Chris' stories.
Most recent customer reviews
So many nooks 'n' crannies to this story, some really evil characters from Chris...Read more