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: The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

Hi all…

Last year, I had the pleasure of reading Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, which took the concept of a zombie plague and put it in the hands of a group of terrorists. Joe Ledger was the hero recruited to take on the shambling, infected dead and find a way to stop them as part of the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) – a super-secret group of highly-trained and resourceful individuals tasked to take out the threats the normal police or military forces of the United States can’t handle.

Now Maberry has managed to take evil to a whole new level with The Dragon Factory. Not only does the terror fit in a timebox of one week, it merges cutting-edge genetics and biological science with the eugenics goal of the Nazis of World War II as they strived to create a “master race”.

Consider what would happen if the cloning experiments described in Ira Levin‘s The Boys from Brazil had the technological tools and expertise of today. Now multiply that by a factor of 1000. As the novel progresses, the depths of depravity and layers of pure evil reveal themselves to be imaginative, inspiring, and horrific all at the same time.

On one side you have the beautiful Jakoby Twins – brilliant, elusive, perfect albino twins engaged in creating genetic mash-ups of existing creatures to form monsters and mercenaries capable of wanton destruction at the drop of a hat. On the other side, you have their father – Cyrus Jakoby – striving to not only create the Nazi Master Race, but rid the world of impurities as Adolph Hitler began to do during his reign of terror.

Between those two factions we find a race against a doomsday clock (called the “Extinction Clock”) nobody knows about until it’s almost too late and Joe Ledger and his friends fight against the odds to save the world from the depths of depravity and madness. Ledger fights the evil on his own terms – but is the sacrifice too high this time?

Honestly, I love it when novels manage to work in not only artifacts of the present, but the echoes of history that are far too often forgotten. Maberry does both in spades while putting you on a heck of a rollercoaster ride. And don’t worry – there’s lots of gunfire, knife fights, and grenades to go around.

Though there is some serious science embedded in the pages of The Dragon Factory, I never found myself bogged down anywhere. His explanations were simple enough to keep the plot moving and the action hardly ever let up. Even the occasional love scene rarely slowed the novel’s pace. Merging the dangers of genetic and biological manipulation with the unfathomable evil of the plans for the Nazi Master Race was a brilliant yet terrifying reminder that humankind is capable of truly beautiful and horrible things.

Maberry has written multiple novels, magazine articles, and plays while also teaching writing. I don’t know where he finds all the time. His novels include Ghost Road Blues, which won the Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2006, Dead Man’s Song, Bad Moon Rising, and Patient Zero, which was recently optioned for television. And when he’s not writing novels, he writes for several Marvel comics, including The Black Panther and other heroes including Wolverine, Spider-Man, The Punisher, and others.

If you like fast, intelligent action thrillers, I can highly recommend Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory to be on your list of books to read. And if you haven’t read Patient Zero, I’d encourage you to pick that up as well. They’re both fast reads with some serious crunch. I can hardly wait to see what’s next for Joe Ledger – and I’d love to see Patient Zero done well on television!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up The Dragon Factory and other Jonathan Maberry books at Amazon:

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Book Review: Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Hey there…

When you start a book with a short first chapter, you’d better make it memorable. For Patient Zero author Jonathan Maberry introduces us to our hero, Joe Ledger, with two sentences:

“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

From that point forward, I was hooked. Joe Ledger is a detective in Baltimore who’s spent the last year and a half involved in a task force comprised of various police departments and Federal agencies. The task force was assigned to keep tabs on a group of terrorists that may have been attempting to smuggle in some type of bioweapon. After 9/11, this is a scary, yet possible scenario I’m sure has been played out by many law enforcement personnel around the country.

When he gets picked up by a group of men with FBI credentials and taken to see a guy simply known as “Mr. Church”, he enters a whole different world. And there things start to get weird for Ledger. The trip turns out to be an interview for a federal agency that doesn’t exist – the Department of Military Sciences or DMS for short – and in order to get the job, he has to subdue a prisoner.

However, the prisoner turns out to be one of the terrorists he killed during a warehouse raid by the task force he was on. And though he was very dead (Ledger made sure) at the warehouse, this suspected terrorist was still trying to kill Ledger in an interview room – zombie style. That’s right – reanimated flesh intent on eating you and infecting you so you too become a member of the zombie army…

Maberry manages to do something I didn’t think was actually possible. He gave zombies a plausible reason for existing. And then he gives the secret to a group of terrorists intent on jihad.

In case you’re wondering, Ledger isn’t alone when he fights the zombies and terrorists. Mr. Church has an entire team of scientists and a small army working for him, including Major Grace Courtland of the British SAS, whom we become acquainted with.

I really don’t want to spoil the fun for you beyond saying I was hooked by this book from beginning to end. All too often when an author tries to merge the fantastic with aspects of the “real world,” we end up sacrificing something on either end to make the pieces fit together. Maberry managed to use the real world as a springboard to bring in zombies, neatly sidestepping the issues by using real science, real weapons, and real tactics to face the evils of bio-terrorism.

In addition, Maberry manages to work in some very funny scenes and quirks for his characters. For instance, Mr. Church always has cookies of various types with him – in his office or in meetings – and throughout the book Ledger munches on different cookies depending on the mood he’s in.

Another example of Maberry’s humor comes out in how he names his characters. One of the character’s names is “Bunny Rabbit” and the exchange goes like this as he introduces himself to Ledger…

“Bunny Rabbit, Force Recon, sir.”

“My last name is Rabbit. Everyone calls me Bunny.”

“It gets worse sir. My first name’s Harvey.”

In the story, the bad guys are bad. The good guys are good — most of them anyway. And along the way you keep wondering if Ledger will make it out alive from some of the situations he finds himself in. Suffice it to say he survives and I’ll be curious to see what Maberry has in store for Ledger and the rest of the DMS in the future.

The subtitle for Patient Zero is “A Joe Ledger Novel,” which implies to me that there will be other Joe Ledger novels. If so, sign me up. I want to see where Maberry takes his world next.

Be sure to check out Patient Zero at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. It’s great for summer reading, especially if you like zombies!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Patient Zero at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon:

p.p.s. Also pick up the Zombie Survival Guide if you’re interested!

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