Book Review: The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

Hi again…

Terrorism. Before 9/11 it was a word that barely registered with Americans at home. After 9/11, it gained a life of its own. But what is it really? It depends on who you talk to. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Dictionary.com defines it as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” For most of us, it’s the nagging fear that somewhere somebody who disagrees with your beliefs is unwilling to agree to disagree and will go to extremes to point out that his or her point of view is right and yours is wrong.

But what if it was all of that and something else? What if there were people in the world using terrorism as a tool to bilk money from millions of people, governments, and companies all over the world? Reducing the harsh realities of a world in which people are willing to blow themselves up for a cause down to a business decision. A financial strategy.

That’s damn scary to me. Welcome to the world of Jonathan Maberry‘s The King of Plagues.

Once again, Maberry gives us a glimpse into the world of the DMS – the Department of Military Services – through the eyes of Joe Ledger. Joe used to be a cop in Baltimore. In the last six months after joining the DMS he’s fought zombies and monsters. What’s next?

At the end of The Dragon Factory, Joe was suffering from the loss of his friend, coworker, and lover during an operation. She was murdered. He needed some time to recover. At the beginning of The King of Plagues, we learn he used some time off to hunt down her murderer and find some small bit of justice.

Though he wanted more time to grieve, the world moved on around him. Somebody blew up a hospital in London. And that act of violence claimed the lives if thousands of people. It was time to go back to work.

When Mr. Church, the leader of the DMS, calls you up and tells you to help the locals when the world goes to hell, you can’t really say no. And that sinks Joe back into the world of covert military action, detective work, and some villains that will sit back and watch the world burn if they like what they’re getting out of the deal. I was hooked from the beginning as Maberry writes about the explosion at the hospital and the emotional punch of watching 9/11 repeat itself…

“I turned to the people around me and saw expressions on their faces ranging from confusion, to disbelief, to shocked awareness. Each was processing the enormity of this at the speed their mind would allow. I could almost see how this was gouging wounds into the collective psyche of everyone here, and anyone who was watching a news feed. Each of them – each of us – would be marked by this forever.”

Through Joe Ledger, we experience five days of hell. Ebola. Plague. Assassins taking pleasure in systematically breaking victims psychologically as well as in their victims slow, agonizing deaths… He’s put through the ringer. And though he may be deadly with or without a weapon and be a hardened warrior, the “everyman” factor is there from beginning to end. He’s easy to identify with as he and his dog Ghost survive horrors with physical and emotional scars that may never heal.

I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy The Dragon Factory as much as the first Joe Ledger novel, Patient Zero. Though there were some interesting twists, turns, and technologies, it was a bit over the top for me and that’s saying something. I was hopeful that King of Plagues would return to the more powerful punch of the first book. And it did that in spades.

If you’re looking for a thriller to sink your teeth into, check out The King of Plagues. Maberry has hit one out of the park this time with nary a zombie in sight.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up all of these books at Barnes & Noble below!

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Book Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Hi all…

When I am moved by good storytelling, it usually provokes more than a surface-level emotional response. When I’m moved to tears by a writer, it’s something truly special. But before I get to talking about Rot & Ruin, I want to make a strange analogy…

On American Idol, the judges are fond of saying that some contestants could “sing the phone book” and they would pay to listen. I think the same thing exists with writers. Some gifted wordsmiths have the magical ability to imbue so much life to their stories that I think they could probably randomly select one of Georges Polti’s The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, a random genre, setting, and character, and create a story that you would enjoy 99% of the time. Not every writer has that gift, but a few do.

Jonathan Maberry first came to my attention in 2009 with his book Patient Zero, which combines one hell of an action plot with zombies for a fast-paced, engaging story. I’ll be the first to tell you that I like zombies, but I really like some of the deeper, emotionally-charged zombie stories of recent years. Books like Mira Grant’s Feed, David Moody‘s Autumn, and some of the unique short fiction anthologies of zombie fiction like The New Dead really get my imagination pumping.

One of the stories in 2010’s The New Dead was Maberry’s “Family Business,” which quite honestly was one of the most moving stories I’ve read in a long time. I was wiping away tears as I read it on a plane a year ago. And when I heard that it was the beginning of a new young adult series he was working on, I became very excited.

The world of “The Family Business” and Rot & Ruin exists after a zombie uprising known simply as First Night. After First Night, everything changed and survivors began gathering together in walled cities to keep the zombies outside. Benny Imura just turned fifteen and has grown up after First Night, so he didn’t know the world before. His brother Tom survived the event and went on to become one of the most respected zombie killers in the area. When Benny can’t quite hack it at any of the other jobs in town (locksmith, fence tester, generator repair man, artist, and many more), he decides it must be time to try the family business and learn the trade from his brother…

As with most decisions that seem simple at the time, Benny has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Though he idolizes some of the other zombie killers like Charlie Pink-Eye and Motor City Hammer, he doesn’t understand why Tom is always mentioned along with them as one of the best. He always thought his brother was a bit of a wimp because he tried to avoid violent conflict. But when he starts learning how to hunt and how Tom works, he’s thrust into a violent world where the worst things aren’t always the zombies.

Rot & Ruin is an amazing story on many levels. It expands on the short story in a variety of ways, fleshing out the world that includes bad dudes, cool chicks, and mysteries galore. I am very excited to see where the story goes in the next book – Dust & Decay – out later this year.

This definitely isn’t for all readers. There is a lot of violence, discussion of rape, and scary situations. So be sure to think about who reads it if you’re considering it for a particularly young reader. The Young Adult (YA) label is very appropriate in this case. But if you are a zombie fan and want to get a YA reader hooked on the genre, it’s tough to beat Rot & Ruin.

Jonathan Maberry is a gifted author with a penchant for creating engaging worlds, plots, and characters to suck you into a story that won’t let you go. Definitely check out Rot & Ruin if you’re looking for a great zombie story!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these great books from Jonathan Maberry…

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