Throwback Thursday – Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Code Zero Cover.jpg

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 25 March 2014)

Series: Joe Ledger series – Book Six

Length: 16 hours and 6 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

The ghosts of the past come back to haunt Joe Ledger and the DMS big time in this sixth book in Jonathan Maberry’s high-octane science fiction/military thriller Joe Ledger series.

For years, the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) has saved the world from some of the most deadly and insane weapons that science can create: race-specific bioweapons, genetically enhanced super soldiers, powerful plagues capable of killing people in the most horrendous way and even a pathogen that is capable of bringing its victims back to life as zombies. Each of these has been stopped by DMS agents and the legendary Joe Ledger, but these horrors are about to resurface in the most devastating of ways.

The mysterious hacker and terrorist Mother Night has been causing the DMS trouble for months, but when she broadcasts a call for anarchy, no-one is prepared for what happens next. Across America, Mother Night’s followers unleash hundreds of random acts of violence, causing horrendous amounts of terror and destruction. As Joe Ledger and the DMS attempt to counter them, a subway car full of people in New York is infected with something disturbingly familiar, the Seif-al-Din zombie pathogen that bought Ledger to the DMS in the first place.

As Ledger and Echo Team are once again forced to contend with the zombie victims of the pathogen, they find themselves targeted from several devastating angles. As the threats become more and more personal, it soon becomes apparent that they are facing someone who knows the DMS intimately and who is willing to use the most lethal tools at their disposal to win. Can Ledger and the DMS survive, or will the world burn at the hands of Mother Night?

Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger books are one of my favourite series at the moment, and I love each book’s excellent blend of compelling storytelling, complex characters, over-the-top villains, electrifying action and insane plot points, which come together into fantastic, first-rate narratives. Ever since I read and got hooked on the tenth book in this series, Deep Silence, about this time last year, I have been periodically reading and reviewing the earlier novels in sequence. So far, I have read the first six novels, Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, Assassin’s Code, The Extinction Machine and this novel, Code Zero. I am actually reviewing this book a little out of order, as I recently powered through both The Extinction Machine and Code Zero while I was away on holidays. As Code Zero is fresher in my mind, I decided to review it first, and I will hopefully get a review for The Extinction Machine up soon as well (the plan is to get it done before the next Joe Ledger book, Rage, comes out in November, but we’ll see how we go).

Considering how much I absolutely loved the rest of the books in the series, it is going to come as no surprise to anyone that I also really enjoyed Code Zero. This sixth book was pretty spectacular, and it is easily one of my favourite books in the entire series, only just being beaten out by The Dragon Factory. In Code Zero, Maberry has made sure to utilise several of the excellent features from the previous Joe Ledger books that l really love and have commented on previously, such as a first-rate story filled with intense action, a smartassed and damaged protagonist, a great group of side characters (including one of the best dogs in all of fiction) and a clever utilisation of flashbacks and multiple perspectives. This book also features some other great story and character elements that really make it stand out from the rest of the series, and which help make it such an outstanding and epic read.

I have mentioned before that one of the best things about the Joe Ledger books is the awesome antagonists that Maberry creates for each of the novels. These have so far included genetically modified Nazis, world-event manipulating masterminds and even a group of vampires. However, the villain of Code Zero, Mother Night, is perhaps one of the most interesting and complex antagonists that Maberry has come up with. Mother Night is an outstanding character who not only has a close connection with the DMS, but whose elaborate master plan does a great deal of damage. I really liked how Maberry used a series of flashback filled interludes to explore the background of this character. These flashbacks show how Mother Night is connected to all the DMS characters and examine how her exposure to various characters and threats from the previous books slowly corrupted her, and why she was compelled to become a terrorist. Despite this being the first book that Mother Night has appeared in, Maberry did a sensational job tying the character into many of the key events from the first three novels, and showing how she was actually involved with some of the previous threats. All of these cool connections really help up the personal stakes for all of the protagonists, and it allows Mother Night to actually hit Joe Ledger and his team harder than anyone else has before, resulting in an extra dramatic and compelling story.

Maberry also uses Mother Night’s plot to examine some rather interesting elements of the modern world. For example, the anarchist movement is explored in some detail, as Mother Night uses anarchist elements in her call to arms, gathering up members of America’s disenfranchised youth to form an army. There is also a rather intriguing look at the role video games can play in violence or espionage. This is not done in an attempt to demonise video games; instead Maberry, through several of the videogame savvy characters, explores how important problem-solving is for gamers, and how the skills obtained there can have real-world applications in both the espionage and defence worlds. The subsequent study of game theory and the desire to win that some gamers feel is particularly fascinating, and it adds very some interesting layers to the story and Mother Night’s overall character.

In addition to this incredible antagonist, the other thing that I absolutely loved about Code Zero is the fact that Maberry decided to bring back some of the iconic threats and story elements from the previous books in the series. Not only did the author do an outstanding job of working these pre-existing story elements into Code Zero’s plot, but their reappearance was also an excellent homage to the earlier books and a real treat for fans of the series. I really enjoyed seeing Ledger have to go up against threats like the walkers and the berserkers again, especially as each of these threats have pretty strong emotional triggers for him due to devastating previous missions. It was also really interesting to see the new and various ways that the antagonist utilised these existing elements in her own plans, and there were some really fun combinations of the insane scientific elements, such as a couple of berserkers who have been infected with Generation 12 of the Seif-al-Din Pathogen, and it’s as awesome as you’d expect.

As this is a Joe Ledger book, Code Zero is of course filled to the brim with all the action and fire fights that you could ever need. Due to the presence of so many varied threats, including some of the monsters from the previous books, Code Zero probably has some of the most intriguing fight scenes in the entire series. This book is filled with a number of elaborate battle sequences in which the protagonists face off against a variety of different opponents at the same time. These opponents can include walkers, berserkers and gunmen disguised as zombies hiding amidst the walking dead, which is just so many layers of awesome. Maberry has an exceptional talent for writing fight sequences, and all this amazing action really helps to get the adrenaline pumping. I also have to commend all of the first-rate zombie scenes in the book, as the author crafts some truly horrifying scenes that showcase how terrifying and emotional damaging it would be to face off against these undead monsters.

As with all the previous books in the Joe Ledger series, I chose to listen to the audiobook format of Code Zero which was narrated by Ray Porter. Clocking in at just over 16 hours, I managed to get through this audiobook fairly quickly, mainly because I started listening to it while on an international flight. I think it is pretty clear at this point that I really enjoy listening to the audiobook versions of the Joe Ledger books, mainly due to the narration of the outstanding Ray Porter. I have sung Porter’s praises in all of my previous reviews, and I really cannot express what a good job he does bring the series titular protagonist to live with his voice work. Code Zero was no exception, and I would strongly recommend the audiobook format to anyone even vaguely interested in this book.

Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry is another spectacular book in the Joe Ledger series, and one that I absolutely loved. Maberry continues to utilise some of the amazing story elements that made his previous six books so darn enjoyable, and he ups the ante with another exceptional antagonist and the clever reuse of memorable story elements from previous books in the series. All of this results in another science fiction/thriller masterpiece that gets an easy five out five stars from me, and it is possibly one of the most enjoyable books I have read so far this year.

Throwback Thursday – Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

Assassin's Code Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 10 April 2012)

Series: Joe Ledger series – Book 4

Length: 15 hours and 35 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, get ready for the fourth high-stakes, action-packed instalment of Jonathan Maberry’s excellent Joe Ledger series, Assassin’s Code, which sets the titular character up against a fantastic new set of antagonists.

Joe Ledger, top field agent for the elite Department of Military Sciences (DMS), is about to have a very unusual day. On assignment in Iran, Ledger and Echo Team have been tasked with rescuing American college kids held hostage by the Iranians. After successfully rescuing the hostages, Ledger is forced at gunpoint into a meeting with a high-ranking Iranian security officer. However, instead of being arrested, Ledger is given information about an impending terrorist attack that could shake the very foundations of the world.

An unknown player apparently has several nuclear weapons in play and is planning to unleash them against a number of targets around the world. As Ledger relays this information to his superiors, he is attacked by a mysterious assailant who is faster, stronger and more deadly than anything he has faced before. Barely escaping from his attacker, Ledger finds himself being pursued through the streets of Tehran by the Red Order, an ancient group of killers whose operatives appear to intimidate even Ledger’s boss, the legendary Mr Church.

As Ledger attempts to come to terms with what exactly is hunting him, he finds himself in the crosshairs of several other secret organisations, each of which has their own agendas. As Ledger gets closer to the truth, he discovers that events are being manipulated by an old enemy. An ancient conspiracy has been revealed and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Can Ledger defeat the monsters unleashed against him or will a new world order arise?

Assassin’s Code in the fourth book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, which sees an elite special forces agency go up against the worst horrors that modern science and science fiction can unleash. I have already read and reviewed several books in this series so far, including the previous three novels, Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory and The King of Plagues, as well as the 10th and latest book in the series, Deep Silence. Each of these books has proven to be fantastic dark science fiction thrillers that I have had an amazing time reading, and all four of them have received a full five-star rating from me. Assassin’s Code is another incredible addition to the series, as Maberry has once again produced an intense and clever story, with some great antagonists, a complex protagonist and a heck of a lot of high-grade action.

In his fourth Joe Ledger book, Maberry has continued to utilise the same writing format that made all the other books in the series such an awesome read. While a large amount of the storyline follows Ledger and the other members of the DMS as they attempt to investigate and then counter the threats they are up against, a large amount of the book revolves around showcasing the history that led up to the book’s current events, as well as exploring the antagonists side of the story. There are several chapters that solely focus on the antagonists, showing what they are planning and the full range of their various motivations. I always love these explorations of the antagonists as I feel it creates a much more complete and interesting overall storyline, and these alternate points of view are often used to really ramp up the book’s tension and hint at events that are going to hit the protagonists.

While he continues to successfully utilises a number of these familiar writing styles, I felt that Maberry also made sure that Assassin’s Code stood out from the other books in the series. Not only does this fourth book have a lot more of a horror vibe to it than the previous two books in the series (somewhat reminiscent of the first novel, Patient Zero) but it is also told as a rush of events over a 24-hour period. Ledger is barely given an opportunity to rest as he is attacked again and again by a series of different opponents in the hostile territory of Tehran. The author has also woven together a number of interconnected conspiracies and features appearances from several individuals and organisations, each of whom has their unique agendas throughout the plot of the book, all of which need to picked through by the reader. All these various players and motivations make for a very full story, but I quite enjoyed seeing all the various revelations come to light. Assassin’s Code is also an intriguing central piece to the whole Joe Ledger series. Not only does it introduce several key characters who become major fixtures of the series but it also introduces a number of key events in the lives of characters who were introduced in the previous books. As a result, it is a must read for those people trying to get a grip on the series as a whole and is a fantastic overall read.

In my mind, one of the best things about the Joe Ledger books are the distinctive antagonists, each of whom come across as major threats not only to the protagonists, but to the entire world. So far in the series, Ledger has had to face zombies, genetically enhanced Nazis and a powerful cabal of terrorists (whose members included Osama Bin Laden) whose attacks are used to manipulate the world for profit. In Assassin’s Code, Maberry has done a fantastic job converting an old legend into a terrifying modern threat, as the major villains of this book, the mysterious Red Order and their infamous Red Knights, are essentially vampires. Maberry already has significant experience writing vampires into the modern world, thanks to his V-Wars book series (an adaption of which is coming out on Netflix in a couple of months), and he does a great job coming up with a new and somewhat plausible explanation for their existence (well, slightly more plausible than a supernatural origin), as well as a creative historical explanation for their organisation. These vampires are written as major threats for most of the book, and the fear and concern that they cause in a number of characters whose badass credentials have been firmly established in previous books is pretty impressive. The use of vampires in modern thriller was a real highlight of this book, and I really loved seeing them go up against a modern special forces unit. Maberry spends a lot of time exploring their history, as the book features a number of interludes that go back to the time of the Crusades, when they were first recruited for their mission. All of this exploration does a fantastic job of showing what true monsters these types of vampires are, which helps the reader really root for the reader. I also really liked some of the other groups featured in this book that were formed as a direct result of the existence of vampires, including a group of modern Inquisitors and the mysterious Arklight. If I had one complaint about these antagonists, it would be that they were taken down a bit too easily in the final act, and I would have preferred a more protracted or vicious fight.

In addition to the vampires, this book also features the reappearance of two key antagonists from the previous book in the series, The King of Plagues, who are major manipulators of events behind the scenes. These characters are the former King of Fear, Hugo Vox, and the mysterious priest Nicodemus, both of whom were major players in the previous book. I really liked how Maberry continued to explore both of these cool characters, and he did a fantastic job of tying their storylines into the unique events of this book. Their respective roles in the plot of this book is quite interesting, and I really enjoyed how both their storylines progressed or ended in this novel. The true reveal of who (or what) Nicodemus is has been left for a later book, and I am very curious to see what he turns out to be.

Maberry continues to do an outstanding job utilising his complex and multilayered protagonist, Joe Ledger. While on the surface, Ledger’s defining character traits are his abilities as a special forces operative and his relentless sense of humour, the character is actually extremely emotionally damaged. Thanks to the fact that Ledger is the only character whose chapters are shown from the first-person perspective (a nice distinctive touch for the central protagonist), the reader gets a much more in-depth look at his inner thoughts, and as a result you see how the events of his life, including the events of the previous three books, have impacted his psyche. It is quite refreshing to have a character who is actually emotionally affected by the events of his books, and you get the feeling that Ledger is only a short way away from truly snapping. However, in the meantime, the thick layer of humour he overlays these feelings with is great for a laugh, and it helps gives the chapters that the character is narrating a very unique and enjoyable feel. In addition to Ledger, I really liked some of the new protagonists introduced in Assassin’s Code and I look forward to exploring them more in the future. Special mention as always needs to go the awesome supporting characters of Mr Church and Ghost, Ledger’s attack dog. With his actions and woofs, Ghost honestly has more personality that some human characters in other books I have read, while Church continues to be the ultra-mysterious intelligence god who you cannot help but want to know more about. These two characters are one of the many reasons why I am excited to check out all the future books in the series.

It should come as no surprise to those who read the plot synopsis, but Assassin’s Code is filled with wall-to-wall action. Maberry has a well-established history of doing detailed research into various forms of combat, especially martial arts, which he has actually written several books on. Maberry is able to transfer all of this knowledge into his books, creating some truly amazing action sequences. There are a huge number of great and varied battle scenes throughout the course of the book, and readers are guaranteed a pulse pumping ride as a result. Also, if you have ever wondered how martial arts trained special forces soldiers would go against vampires, than this is the book for you.

Like all the other books in the Joe Ledger series, I chose to listen to the audiobook format of Assassin’s Code, narrated by Ray Porter. Coming in at around 15 hours and 35 minutes, this is a substantial audiobook; however, due to how much I enjoyed the epic story, I powered through it in a couple of days. I would strongly recommend that readers always check out the audiobook format of this series, thanks mainly to Porter’s narration. Porter, who has so far narrated all of the Joe Ledger books, has an uncanny ability to bring this central protagonist to life. His great narration fully encapsulates Ledger’s full range of emotions, from light-hearted banter, to soul-crushing despair to powerful bursts of rage, and it is really worth checking out. In addition, Porter does some really good voices for the other characters in the book, especially Mr Church, and he is probably one of my favourite audiobook narrators at the moment.

When I started reading Assassin’s Code, I knew I was going to love it, and it did not disappoint. Not only did Maberry up the ante with some incredible antagonists but he created another complex and utterly captivating story that had me hooked in an extremely short period of time. Assassin’s Code easily gets another five stars from me, and I whole-heartily recommend the audiobook format of this book. I am planning to try and read all the other Joe Ledger books in the next couple of months as I only just found out that the story is continuing in November of this year as part of a new spin-off series. Stay tuned to see what I think of the other books in this series (spoiler alert, I think I am going to love them).

Waiting on Wednesday – Rage by Jonathan Maberry

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. This week’s edition of Waiting on Wednesday should come as no surprise to readers of this blog, as I look at Rage by Jonathan Maberry, the first book in a new series that spins off from his epic Joe Ledger series.

Rage Cover.png

The Joe Ledger series has quickly become one of my absolute favourite series, after I was blown away by the 10th book in the series Deep Silence last year. Since then, I have gone back and read several of the earlier Joe Ledger novels, including Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory and The King of Plagues. I have only just recently finished reading the fourth book in the series, Assassin’s Code, and I am hoping to review it as part of a Throwback Thursday article soon. I am also currently a few hours deep into the audiobook of the fifth book in the series, Extinction Machine, and it looks like it is going to be another excellent read. Each of these books has proven to be an outstanding read, and each of them gets an easy five out of five stars from me. So, when I heard that Maberry was continuing the adventures of Joe Ledger in a new series, I knew that I would have to get it.

The original Joe Ledger series followed the adventures of the titular protagonist Joe Ledger, a former soldier and cop who is recruited into the super-secret Department of Military Sciences (DMS). The DMS, run by the enigmatic Mr Church (who is a pretty awesome character in his own right), is an elite government agency that deals with a number of wild and dangerous threats cooked up by mad science, ranging from zombies to aliens. However, by the end of the 10th book the DMS finds itself no longer capable of dealing with the irrational demands of a petty and paranoid President (clearly Trump, but their name is never mentioned) and disbands as an official government agency. However, Mr Church immediately reforms the DMS as Rogue Team International, an independent organisation endorsed by the United Nations that will deal with threats on an international level without the debilitating oversight of a corrupt United States Government.

The adventures of this new group is going to be covered in a new sequel series from Maberry, the Rogue Team International series, which will feature all the characters from the original Joe Ledger series. The first book in this series, Rage, is set to be released in early November 2019 and already looks like it is going to be another outstanding read.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small island off the coast of Japan is torn apart by a bioweapon that drives everyone—men, women, and children—insane with murderous rage. The people behind that attack want Korea united or destroyed. No middle ground. No mercy. And they are willing to punish any country that stands in the way—the United States, China, and Japan could all be consumed by a plague of pure destructive slaughter.

Joe Ledger leads his newly formed band of international troubleshooters in their first mission to stop the terror cell, fighting alongside agents from North and South Korea. With the lives of billions at stake, Ledger is willing to bring his own brand of terror to this frightening new war.

I am excited for this new book, which looks set to once again feature an enjoyable storyline that is a fun combination of horror, science fiction and thriller elements. This plot synopsis already sounds like this upcoming novel is going to have a pretty classic Joe Ledger plot line, and I am extremely keen to see how Maberry explores the first mission of this new organisation as they fight against the odds to save the day from a terrible new threat.

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that Maberry is going to follow a similar style and format to the previous books in the series. As a result, readers can probably expect an intense adventure filled with multiple timelines, an elaborate plot, excellent antagonists, a ton of detailed and well-written action, and the continued narration from one of modern fiction’s most likeable and humorous protagonists. I am curious to see what kind of plot the opponents in this book cook up in order to complete their objective. The villain’s rage virus bioweapon sounds similar to some of the previous plots from the first Joe Ledger series, and I will be interested to see if it ties into some existing antagonists or if they are dealing with a completely original antagonist.

I am also really looking forward to seeing what role Rogue Team International plays in this world’s political climate. Presumably they are pretty major players if they are brought in to investigate this type of plot, but you have to imagine that the US government is not going to be happy about them getting involved. Considering that Trump is still in power in the real world, it is likely that Maberry will continue to portray him as the President in his universe. The author’s very accurate portrayal of this President was a major highlight of Deep Silence, and I am really looking forward to seeing how this President would potentially deal with another major and unusual crisis, especially if it puts him up against Ledger and Church.

Rage by Jonathan Maberry is very high on my reading radar at the moment, and it is potentially the book I am most eager to check out for the rest of the year. I have been really loving this series lately and I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here. I will probably check out Rage’s audiobook format when it comes out (it looks like Ray Porter is set to narrate again, yay!), although if I can get an advanced hard copy, I might read that instead. I am exceedingly excited for this book and I believe that this will be another five-star read from one of the best thriller writers in the world today.

Waiting on Wednesday – Grave Importance by Vivian Shaw

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

For my latest Waiting on Wednesday segment, I look at a book that promises to be quite entertaining and features an incredibly eye-catching cover, Grave Importance by Vivan Shaw.

Grave Importance Cover.jpg

For the last two years I have had the pleasure of enjoying Vivian Shaw’s debut series, the Dr. Greta Helsing series: Strange Practice in 2017 and Dreadful Company in 2018. This has been a fun and intriguing series that combines intriguing mysteries and supernatural adventures with fascinating monster medicine. The titular series protagonist, Dr. Greta Helsing, is a London doctor whose unique practice caters to the city’s hidden creatures who go bump in the night, including vampires, mummies, ghouls and demons. Helsing and her monster companions also find themselves wrapped up in a series of magical or demonic incidences which require their intervention.

I have really enjoyed the first two books in the series and have been keeping an eye out for the third book, Grave Importance, for a few months now. I am quite excited by this third book, as it has an awesome-sounding synopsis and I think that it has a lot of promise.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A charmingly witty fantasy adventure in the world of Strange Practice, starring Dr. Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, who must solve a dangerous medical mystery at a secret French spa for mummies.

Oasis Natrun: a private, exclusive, highly secret luxury health spa for mummies, high in the hills above Marseille, equipped with the very latest in therapeutic innovations both magical and medical. To Dr. Greta Helsing, London’s de facto mummy specialist, it sounds like paradise. But when Greta is invited to spend four months there as the interim clinical director, it isn’t long before she finds herself faced with a medical mystery that will take all her diagnostic skill to solve.

A peculiar complaint is spreading among her mummy patients, one she’s never seen before. With help from her friends and colleagues — including Dr. Faust (yes, that Dr. Faust), remedial psychopomps, a sleepy scribe-god, witches, demons, a British Museum curator, and the inimitable vampyre Sir Francis Varney — Greta must put a stop to this mysterious illness before anybody else crumbles to irreparable dust…

…and before the fabric of reality itself can undergo any more structural damage.

There are a number of great plot elements contained within the synopsis above that have me excited for Grave Importance. In particular, the continued use of monster medicine and the inclusion of a great troupe of supporting characters should make for an awesome read.

The focus on monster medicine in the previous books was probably one of my favourite things about the Dr. Greta Helsing series. The plot synopsis seems to strongly indicate that this book will be featuring a lot more monster medicine, as Helsing is investigating a unique medical malady among the mummies she is tending. That sounds perfect to me, and I hope that Shaw spends quite a large part of the book examining this medical mystery.

It also sounds like Shaw will be featuring some cool characters in her latest book. The first two novels have both featured a fun group of supporting characters, most of whom are monstrous or magical in origin. The synopsis above features references to several of these existing characters, and I will be very happy to see them come back. It also looks like Shaw has created a few new characters for this third novel, and several of their descriptions make them sound like fun inclusions. I think that this combination of existing and new characters will add a lot to the story and should make for an entertaining read.

Grave Importance is shaping up to be another great entry in the enjoyable Dr. Greta Helsing series. It sounds like Shaw is stacking the plot with some excellent story elements, and it should prove to be a lot of fun. Grave Importance is coming out in late August 2019, and I look forward to reading and reviewing it.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Institute by Stephen King

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

Stephen King is one of the most, popular fiction authors in the world today, producing a huge number of thrilling and inventive books over the years, many of which have been turned into iconic works of film.  Stephen King mania is pretty strong these days, with the It movies and the Castle Rock television show in particular being extremely popular, although there is are a huge plethora of other recent or upcoming films and television shows highlighting the author’s popularity.  His latest book, 2018’s The Outsider has garnered over 91,000 ratings and over 10,000 reviews on Goodreads alone.  As a result, I am sure that King’s upcoming book, The Institute, is already set to become one of the bestselling books of 2019, and I imagine quite a few reviewers and bloggers are just as eager as me to review this book.

I have not read as many Stephen King novels as I perhaps should have, having only read Cell and Sleeping Beauties, which he wrote with his son Owen.  However, I really enjoyed both of these books and I am extremely keen to check out some more of the author’s work.  I have previously mentioned how I deeply regret not getting around to reading The Outsider last year, and I still intend to read it at some point.  I am extremely keen to check out this latest book.

The Institute is set to be released on 10 September this year, and some interesting details of this book have already been released, including two separate plot synopses and two intriguing looking covers, although the first cover is my favourite of the two.

The Institute Cover 1.jpg
Synopsis 1:

Deep in the woods of Maine, there is a dark state facility where kids, abducted from across the United States, are incarcerated. In the Institute they are subjected to a series of tests and procedures meant to combine their exceptional gifts – telepathy, telekinesis – for concentrated effect.

Luke Ellis is the latest recruit. He’s just a regular 12-year-old, except he’s not just smart, he’s super-smart. And he has another gift which the Institute wants to use…

Far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson has taken a job working for the local Sheriff. He’s basically just walking the beat. But he’s about to take on the biggest case of his career.

Back in the Institute’s downtrodden playground and corridors where posters advertise ‘just another day in paradise’, Luke, his friend Kalisha and the other kids are in no doubt that they are prisoners, not guests. And there is no hope of escape.

But great events can turn on small hinges and Luke is about to team up with a new, even younger recruit, Avery Dixon, whose ability to read minds is off the scale. While the Institute may want to harness their powers for covert ends, the combined intelligence of Luke and Avery is beyond anything that even those who run the experiments – even the infamous Mrs Sigsby – suspect.

Thrilling, suspenseful, heartbreaking, The Institute is a stunning novel of childhood betrayed and hope regained.

The Institute Cover 2.jpg
Synopsis 2:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

Both of these synopses sound incredibly fascinating and have really stoked my interest in this book.  The whole government institute full of psychics reminds me a bit of Eleven in Stranger Things, but I am sure that King will add a much darker edge to his story, probably with some child murder.  King has a proven ability to bring young child protagonists to life and have them lead a horror or thriller novel aimed at an adult audience, so I have high hopes for how this book will turn out.

The Institute is set to be the latest hit from the master of modern horror and thriller fiction, Stephen King, and is currently high on my list of books to read for September.  No doubt this will be one of the year’s major releases and I am really looking forward to checking out another piece of King’s magic (or psychic powers in this case).  With a deeply intriguing plot, I am sure that I will enjoy this and the eventual film of television series that results from it.

Guest Review: Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

For this entry, my editor and future wife Alex managed to talk me into letting her do a review.  We hope you enjoy this guest review, and Alex may do some more in the future.

Pan's Labyrinth Cover

Publisher: Bloomsbury (Trade Paperback – 2 July 2019)

Series: Pan’s Labyrinth

Length: 297 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As the chief editor for The Unseen Library, I read far more book reviews than books, but every now and then the mood strikes just right, and I am fortunate to share a house filled to the brim with books waiting to be enjoyed. I thought I’d commemorate the latest occasion by writing a review of my own:

Pan’s Labyrinth is a Spanish-language dark fantasy film written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Thirteen years after its release, Guillermo del Toro and bestselling author Cornelia Funke have transformed the screenplay of the film into a beautiful work of prose.

Pan’s Labyrinth is part of a modern tradition of fairytales in which children have fantastic adventures whilst the adults are busy with war. In Spain, in 1944, young Ofelia and her mother join the household of Capitan Vidal, who is responsible for hunting down the anti-fascist guerrillas hiding in the mountainous forests nearby. Left to her own devices and enchanted by fairy tales, Ofelia is drawn to the ancient stone labyrinth near their new home. There she meets the Faun, who tells her she is in fact the missing princess of the Underground Kingdom. In order to reclaim her place in the kingdom and escape her terrible new stepfather, she must prove her courage and worthiness by completing three tasks. This is easier said than done; these tasks themselves are life-threateningly perilous, but Ofelia must also try to protect herself and her heavily pregnant and ailing mother from the ruthless Capitan and the rebels at the door.

Guillermo del Toro is renowned for making visually stunning films, and Pan’s Labyrinth was no exception; in fact, it won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup. I am happy to report that the novelisation of Pan’s Labyrinth faithfully re-imagines the amazing sets, characters and creatures of the film. In the absence of cinematography, visual design and Doug Jones in monster makeup, the authors have relied on using a great deal of descriptive language to bring scenes to life in text. This is also supported by a number of illustrations throughout the book which clearly drew from the art of the film. It had been many years since I last saw the film, but the imagery of the story is so well produced that I was easily able to imagine many long-forgotten scenes according to del Toro’s vision.

There are many advantages of this novelisation. In particular, the book gives a great deal of insight into various characters not afforded by the film. We see Ofelia’s thought processes as she observes the adults around her and as she obeys or defies the Faun’s instructions. We understand the fierce motivation of Mercedes and Dr Ferreira as they desperately try to assist the rebels in the hills without being discovered. Most terrifying of all, we catch a glimpse of the inner mind of Capitan Vidal, the Wolf, whose horrendous acts of violence rival those of the Pale Man. The inner monologues of these characters provided in the book enable us to have a greater appreciation of their perspectives, actions and motivations.

For the most part, the novelisation follows the story of the film faithfully, but it also includes a number of additional chapters. These feature stories of the Underground Kingdom and its magic bleeding into the Upper Kingdom, creating the lore and mythology that surrounds the Spanish landscape in which the story is set. These grim and interconnected fairy tales provide amazing context for the enigmatic Faun and the nature and gravity of the tasks Ofelia must complete, as well as being beautiful and moving stories in their own right.

Fans of the film will know exactly what to expect from the novelisation of Pan’s Labyrinth and will appreciate the additional fairy tales and insights it provides. Those who haven’t seen the film (and there is always a cohort of cinemagoers that dislikes or struggles with subtitled films) will feel as though they had, as this gruesome and fantastic story has been beautifully transferred onto the page.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Possession by Michael Rutger

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

The Possession Cover.jpg

In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I will be look at The Possession by Michael Rutger, the sequel to one of the creepiest books I read last year, The Anomaly.  Michael Rutger is an acclaimed author of horror and thrillers, having written a number of great novels over the years under a number of different names.  The Anomaly was a particularly amazing book that placed a team of amateur myth hunters inside a genuine and over-the-top ancient mystery and a real-life conspiracy which they were forced to unravel in order to survive.  In the second book, the team will face an entirely new challenge.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Still recovering from the shocking revelations they uncovered deep in uncharted territory in the Grand Canyon, American myth and legend investigator Nolan Moore and his team take on a new mission, investigating a rumoured case of witchcraft and possession.

Nolan hopes their new case, in a quaint village in the middle of the woods, will prove much more like those he and his team investigated prior to their trip to Kincaid’s cavern.

But as the residents accounts of strange phenomena add up, Nolan and company begin to suspect something all too real and dangerous may be at play. A force that may not be willing to let them escape the village unscathed.

The new story sounds like a whole lot of fun, as the team once again finds themselves with a genuine anomaly.  I really enjoyed the science fiction based horror story that featured in The Anomaly, and I am intrigued by the potential fantasy element to this story, as the synopsis makes it sound like they are encountering either demons or witches.  If Rutger continues to follow the pattern established in The Anomaly, this book will feature some historical investigation as Nolan and his production team of side characters attempt to find the source of the mysterious events.

In the first book of this series, Rutger showed off his ability to craft a disturbing and memorable piece of horror, especially through his utilisation of the claustrophobic darkness that surrounded his characters in a cave.  It will be interesting to see what in The Possession will inspire Rutger’s horror element, but I am sure it will be amazing.  After falling in love with several of the characters from the first book, I am almost a little afraid to check The Possession out, as the chance of all of them surviving seems a little low.

The Possession by Michael Rutger has the potential to be a wildly thrilling piece of horror fiction, and I am very excited to see how the author creates another dark and chilling story.  I am very tempted to check out this book’s audiobook format, especially if they get Brandon Williams to narrate it, as he did a superb job with The Anomaly, and his narration really helped to enhance the horror elements, especially the powerful lack of light around the characters.  The Possession is very high up on my list of 2019 reads, and I am very much looking forward to listening to another excellent horror read.