Throwback Thursday: Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

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Publishers: St. Martin’s Griffin

                       Blackstone Audiobooks

Publication Date – 3 March 2009

 

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.

A couple of weeks ago I listened to and reviewed the latest book in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, Deep Silence, and found myself hooked on the insane, mad science based thriller adventure.  After enjoying Deep Silence and giving it a five-star review, I started checking out some of the previous books in the Joe Ledger series that I had not had a chance to read before, and found myself enjoying the plot concepts of the other books in the series.  The moment I finished listening to Deep Silence, I immediately jumped back to the first book in the series, Patient Zero, to review as part of my Throwback Thursday series.

When Baltimore detective Joe Ledger is assigned to a joint terrorism taskforce, he thinks it is an opportunity to fight back against the people responsible for 9/11.  What he was not expecting was to have a crazed man try to bite him on his first raid with the taskforce after discovering a warehouse filled with terrorists.  His elation about a job well done is destroyed when he encounters one of the terrorists again later that week.  There is just one problem: Ledger knows that he killed him during the first raid.  Someone has created a terrifying bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies, and worse, they have supplied this virus to a destructive terrorist organisation that plans to release it within the United States.

As the full extent of the horror being unleashed against them is revealed, Ledger finds himself recruited into a newly created covert organisation that was set up to handle extraordinary threats such as this.  Known as the Department of Military Sciences (DMS), this organisation wields the latest technology and the country’s brightest scientists under the command of the mysterious Mr Church.  As a member of the DMS, Ledger leads an elite team of combat specialists in the field in an attempt to contain any attempts to unleash the virus on the population and to destroy those who have already been infected.  As Ledger’s investigation progresses, he uncovers an elaborate conspiracy that will have devastating impacts for all of humanity.  But with the fate of the world in the balance, it soon becomes clear that there is a traitor within the DMS who has no qualms about unleashing a zombie apocalypse.

I have to admit that after absolutely loving Deep Silence, I had very high expectations when I started reading Patient Zero.  Luckily I was not disappointed and found that Patient Zero had a fantastic action based storyline that makes good use of its mad science elements to create an intense and very enjoyable novel that sets up all the elements for this future series.  I also chose to check out the first book in this series in its audiobook format, which, at just under 15 hours, is a great way to enjoy this high-octane story.

Hands down, the best thing about this novel has to be the zombies and the way that Maberry has created a compelling and intricate thriller story around this classic horror story concept.  The thriller aspect of this is really clever.  Rather than being the central antagonists themselves, the zombies are a tool being utilised in a wide-reaching conspiracy that the protagonists have to unravel in order to figure out the origins and endgames of the book’s true antagonists.  These thriller elements are quite detailed, and Maberry utilises a number of chapters told from the antagonists’ point of view to add some depth to the conspiracy and showcase the extent of their plot, as well the problems these groups have.  The protagonists also have to deal with potential traitors in their ranks, advanced science that they do not understand and a surprisingly organised, devious and well-equipped terrorist organisation.  All of this is an extremely captivating thriller storyline, and I love how Maberry has managed to utilise the book’s zombie element to help flesh this out.

Maberry has also created a unique and intriguing zombie origin for this book that is based on potential real-life science.  The zombies in this book are the result of a disease rather than a supernatural calamity.  They have been created by some advanced science and extreme mutations of existing diseases and viruses, such as prion diseases.  As a result, Maberry and his characters spend a lot of time examining the potential science behind this zombie virus, which pulls the reader in as they consider how close something this crazy could be to a reality.  I was really struck by the way that Maberry tried to show the horror that these creatures would inflict on the people who encounter them, and the sheer terror that they inflect on normal humans.  The point-of-view protagonists spend significant time explaining how terrifying and emotionally damaging it is to have to encounter and fight these infected people, as well as how guilty they feel about having to kill them.  There are quite a few parts of the book where the characters discuss how damaging these events are to them, and it really adds some emotional gravitas to this story.  Maberry is a prominent author of zombie fiction, so it is no surprise that he is able to create quite a number of awesome and terrifying scenes featuring the zombies as they attack and kill all around them.  There are also some interesting zombie deviations that appear and offer some unique elements to the story.  Overall this is an incredible and memorable addition to this story and one that will really appeal to fans of zombies and the horror genre.

Action is a major part of the Joe Ledger series, as the protagonist leads an elite special forces unit against all these elite scientific threats.  As a result, there are a huge number of action sequences throughout this novel and the reader is constantly left with a racing pulse.  There are so many great fast-paced elements throughout Patient Zero for action junkies to enjoy.  Maberry is always great at describing special forces tactics in his stories, and I enjoyed seeing them used against the unique threats in this book.  There are a number of excellent firefights throughout the story, and the author has a great mind to examining the psychology of a gun battle.  Maberry’s love of martial arts and close-combat fighting once again shines through in Patient Zero, as his protagonist is an expert fighter who has innumerable hand-to-hand fights with a number of different opponents.  While the above actions scenes are all extremely awesome, the best scenes have to revolve around the desperate fight between these elite soldiers and the horde of zombies that they encounter.  These scenes are really fantastic and watching the special forces characters fight tooth and nail against a horde of zombies becomes a captivating and powerful part of this book.  There are quite a few crazy action scenes throughout Patient Zero for the reader to look out for and which are defiantly a highlight of the book.  I personally found that listening to these scenes in the audiobook format really brought me into the centre of the action, and it was an excellent way to enjoy this element.

Patient Zero is an excellent introduction to the Joe Ledger series and contains a number of elements that will continue into the rest of the series.  I came to this book having first read the 10th and latest book in the series, Deep Silence.  As a result, I was really intrigued to see what characters were introduced in the first book and which ones do not appear in the final book of the series.  There are some interesting differences between Patient Zero and Deep Silence that I found quite fascinating.  For example, the opponents and technology in this first book are a lot more realistic, as Maberry has yet to start utilising the Lovecraft-inspired aliens which feature in some of the later Joe Ledger novels.  The head of the DMS, the mysterious Mr Church, also comes across as a much colder character in this first book, as well as someone who is more comfortable with civilian deaths and sacrifice if it results in the survival of the rest of the world.  That being said, there are some familiar elements.  Ledger is still an incredibly sarcastic and funny protagonist, and the author tries to highlight a huge range of varied viewpoints to show the whole range of the plot the DMS is trying to unravel.  Patient Zero serves as a great introduction to the DMS, and I really enjoyed seeing the early days of this organisation.  I also love how everyone is quite confused about what this organisation is and the mystery around Mr Church, who appears to have an incredible amount of influence and power in Washington.  For example, at one point he actually tells the president of the United States that he is wasting his time and hangs up on him in, an action an incredulous Ledger describes as “bitch-slapping the president”.

Patient Zero is an incredible first novel in Jonathan Maberry’s incredible Joe Ledger series and one that serves as a fantastic introduction for readers unfamiliar with this series.  Featuring all sorts of mad science, impressive action sequences, a five-star thriller storyline and a ton of amazing zombies, this is an outstanding novel and one that proves very hard to put down.  After loving this book, as well as the latest book in this series, Deep Silence, I am now fully determined to read the rest of the books in the Joe Ledger series.  Fully expect to see a review for The Dragon Factory very soon; I have no doubt that I will really enjoy that book as well.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Runaways Volume 2: Best Friends Forever by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 30 October 2018

 

Recently reunited and still coming to terms with being a family again, the adventures of Marvel Comics’ favourite group of misfit youths continues in Best Friends Forever, the second volume of young adult author Rainbow Rowell and artist Kris Anika’s run on Runaways.

The Runaways, Chase, Gert, Karolina, Nico, Victor, Molly and Old Lace are finally back together and living in one of their parents’ old hideouts.  While most of the team have grown up since the last time they were all together, this does not mean that they have their lives together.  Each of the Runaways has their issues to deal with, be it Gert’s recent return to life after several years of being dead, Karolina’s relationship problems or Victor’s current existence as a disembodied head.  The only one who appears to have their life even remotely together is the team’s youngest and at times wisest member, Molly, who is enjoying her time in middle school.  But even Molly is having problems, as she is faced with a hard choice and must consider whether she actually wants to grow up.

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As Molly deliberates over the dilemma presented to her, a barrage of other arrivals impact on the Runaways.  Karolina’s girlfriend, Julie Power of Power Pack fame, is in town, which causes significant drama for Karolina and Nico, while Dr Doom has apparently appeared on their doorstep, determined to find Victor.  Can a team rife with squabbles, drama and internal strife come together to face the problems before them, or will their significant changes be too much to bear?

Runaways is still one of my favourite Marvel series.  After the revamp earlier this year, previously reviewed here, these fantastic characters are still going strong.  In this second volume, Rowell, Atkins and their creative team continue to produce some outstanding and emotional stories that are based more on the relationships between the main characters than the traditional crime-fighting storylines contained within other comics.  While they do go up against a couple of superpowered opponents within this story, none of these antagonists is truly evil, and their motivations and history are a lot more morally ambiguous than some of the previous Runaways stories.  The creative team do a fantastic job of blending highly emotional storylines with a bunch of fun and heart-warming sequences, filled with random and funny elements, such as an errant Doombot.  This all comes together into one fantastic overall story that hits all the right buttons.  This second volume contains issues #7 – #12 of this new run on Runaways.

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One of the main aspects of this second volume of Runaways is the continued focus on the relationships between the series’ main characters.  Most of these characters are still coming to terms with being back together after all of them attempted to live lives outside of their team.  Quite a bit of Volume 2 involves the characters trying to determine what roles they have within this surrogate family, and the fact that they are not as close as they used to be.  What I liked is the way that Chase, usually the most immature member of the team, attempts to become the father of the group, matching up with the traditional female leader of the team, Nico, as the team’s mother.  This new parental role is highlighted in a funny couple of scenes where Chase and Nico use magic to become Molly’s legal guardians, a shortcut way that “seems totally legit and great”.  A lot of this volume is also focused on the romantic relationships between several of the group’s characters, including the relationship between Gert and Victor and the new romantic feelings between Nico and Carolina.  I thought the lead-in to both these relationships worked out very well and sets up some interesting potential in future volumes.  I am also very curious to see how the friendship between Victor and Chase is going to be impacted as a result of this new relationship in future volumes of this series.  I liked the way that the relationships and romantic considerations that featured between Carolina and Julie and Carolina and Nico were handled very well and with great sensitivity, and showed great representations of LGBT+ relationships.

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I also appreciated the way that Rowell and Anika continued to focus on the emotional and mental damage that the team’s exploits have had on these characters over their entire comic book history.  In this second volume, there is a significant focus on Victor, who was mentally and physically damaged during his previous appearances in Vision.  Chase and Doombot’s attempts to rebuild Victor during this volume prove to be a particularly vivid trigger for Victor, and leads to some significant emotional moments.  There is also a look at Victor’s fear of vibranium because of its addictive and mind-altering impact on him, which drove him to commit terrible acts in a previous series.  The creative team also take a look at the life of old team member Klara, the young powered girl the team rescued from abuse back in 1907 during a time-travel adventure.  It was previously revealed that Klara had been taken away from the team by the state and is now in a loving household.  A brief section of this volume is dedicated to the team finding her and attempting to bring her back into the fold, but Klara refuses to come back, as she is happy in her new life.  You have to appreciate Klara’s sound reasoning for not wanting to come back to the team, due to the death and multiple problems experienced in the previous adventures.
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One of the most significant issues that the character’s experiences have had on them is based around their negative opinions of adults.  Most of the truly terrible things in their lives have been the result of the plans of the adults they encounter, and their distrust of most adult characters has been a long-running aspect of the series.  It is interesting to see that this carries through to the new series, even though several of the characters are now actually adults.  This viewpoint is most prevalent in Gert, whose death during one of the previous run of this series means she still shares the beliefs these characters had while they were fugitives.  However, the rest of the team also have a hard time trusting other adults, such as when they assume Klara’s new adopted parents have to be evil, as every adult they have previously dealt with in similar circumstances were also evil or abusive.  This viewpoint has significant plot impacts in this second volume, as Molly, given the opportunity to stay young forever, talks to several of the other Runaways in an attempt to subtly work out their thoughts on growing up.  Most of the characters, including non-team member Julie Powers, talk somewhat negatively about their current lives and regret growing up, which tempts Molly to accept the chance to stay young.  The final message of this storyline strongly implies that growing up isn’t so bad, as even the antagonist, a young girl who has stayed 13 for 50 years, does not always want to be young.  It was also interesting to see Klara try to correct the team when they say that no adults can be trusted; having had a loving family relationship, she no longer believes that.

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The second volume of this run of Runaways continues to make use of some fun artwork throughout the various issues.  The character designs continue to be fun, and it is interesting to see some new looks and some constantly changing character designs, especially for the trendy Nico.  The art is often used for comedic affect.  Victor has a fun use throughout the book, and it is pretty humorous to see the head floating around in a number of scenes, even in a middle of a fight scene.  I also loved how throughout the course of the volume, he was given more and more advanced mobility upgrades in each scene that he appeared in, each more comedic than the last.  For example, at the start of the volume he is mostly transported in other character’s hand, his own momentum or in a backpack.  However, as the volume continues he is variously attached to a Roomba, a small tracked rover, several helium balloons (so he can get the feeling on flight back again) and eventually a new drone.  All of these are slightly ridiculous and fun, but they do not take away from the emotional nature of several scenes, and I must point out some of the awesome drawings that hint at the issues Nico is having with her magic.

The second volume of this new series of Runaways, Best Friends Forever, is another strong and emotional addition to this new version of this young adult superhero comic.  I really appreciated the creative teams continued focus on the character relationships and the emotional aspects of the characters’ lives.  Best Friends Forever is another fantastic addition to this powerful new run of Runaways, and I am excited to see what happens to this great group of characters next.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

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Publishers: St. Martins Griffin

                        Macmillan Audio

Publication Date – 30 October 2018

 

From horror legend Jonathan Maberry comes the 10th book in his weird-science based horror, thriller, science fiction Joe Ledger series, which takes the reader on a wild joyride through a world gone mad in this five-star adventure.

I have to admit that Maberry is not an author that I have had much experience with before.  The only work of his I have previously read was a fun short story that was featured in a volume of zombie short stories he jointly edited with George A. Romero in 2017 that I previously reviewed here.  However, I am extremely happy that I decided to check out this latest book as it exposed me to this incredible series, which I enjoyed immensely.  I can think of no greater praise for this novel then to say that upon finishing it, I immediately dropped everything and started reading the first book in the series, Patient Zero, which I will be reviewing in the next few weeks as part of my Throwback Thursday series.

I chose to listen to Deep Silence on audiobook rather than read a physical copy.  The audiobook format of this book is just under 16½ hours long and is narrated by Ray Porter, who has worked on several other books in the series.

In this latest book, a Russian splinter group have developed a powerful weapon with pieces of alien crystal seeded throughout the planet.  This new weapon can cause devastating earthquakes on a level never before seen and has the potential to destroy the entirety of the United States.  The weapon also has a chilling side effect: it causes people around the epicentre of the quake to engage in violent acts of madness, from suicide to ferocious attacks on others.  The first attack targets Washington, with mass violence erupting around the Capitol building.

America’s only hope may be the top-secret rapid response organisation, the Department of Military Sciences (DMS).  For years, the DMS has been the only line of defence against the insane science America’s enemies are utilising and developing in this new age of wonders.  From deadly diseases, ancient forbidden technologies, extreme acts of genetic manipulation, the latest forms of cyber and electronic attack, and even weaponised zombies, the DMS, led in the field by Captain Joe Ledger, has managed to stop all these threats and more.  Utilising the latest military and espionage equipment and the best and brightest soldiers and scientists America has to offer, the DMS operates just outside the government and can go further than any other agency can.

However, while the DMS attempts to combat this latest threat, they find themselves hindered by a megalomaniac President whose stupidity and paranoia make him more afraid of the DMS than the group unleashing earthquakes across his country.  As Joe and his team attempt to hunt down the origins of this attack they must contend not only with a dangerous Russian force but also with agents of their own Government and devices that can drive even the most dedicated DMS agent insane.  But as the Russians attempt to force the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, the greatest threat may come from the creatures the technology was stolen from.

Deep Silence is the 10th book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, which started in 2009 with Patient Zero.  Maberry has been writing since 2006, with his debut book Ghost Road Blues forming the first book in the Pine Deep Trilogy.  Since then, Maberry has written a huge number of books, most of which have a horror theme or focus.  Apart from his Joe Ledger series, Maberry is probably best known for his Rot & Ruin series, a young adult zombie apocalypse series.  Aside from his fictional novels, Maberry has also written several comics for Marvel as well of a number of non-fiction books, which tend to focus on Maberry’s passions for martial arts and the supernatural.

Deep Silence is an exceptional book that combines together a number of genres, including science fiction, thriller, horror, military fiction and spy thrillers into one very captivating narrative.  The end result is a non-stop thrill ride that perfectly utilises the series’s bizarre nature and advanced science to create a devastating threat and a larger-than-life protagonist to face it.  There are so many amazing elements to this book, from its continuation of an enjoyable series, to the very weird elements that come into play, to the excellent writing style and enjoyable characters.  Once I started reading this book I just could not stop, and it is easily one of my favourite books of this year.

From what I understand, the Joe Ledger series started off mostly focusing on the mad sciences that humans are able to create and use against each other.  However, in recent books, the series has taken on a more Lovecraftian vibe, with unknown aliens, space demons and incredibly insane technology.  Deep Silence in particular seems to relate back to several of these previous alien technology based novels, as the devices, technology and motives that the book’s antagonists utilise are closely related to the adventures that occurred in previous books.  That being said, there is still the continuous use of more advanced human technologies utilised by many of the book’s characters, especially those working for the DMS.  All the crazy gadgets that they use are pretty impressive, but none (with one or two major exceptions) are outside the realm of possibility and reflect technologies that could potentially exist.  Indeed, in the introduction to Patient Zero, Maberry actually confirms that most of the technology he describes in his books is currently used or could soon be used by intelligence organisations around the world today.

One of the challenges of coming into a series late is the reader’s lack of knowledge about the universe’s background information, lore and the development of its main characters and the extent of their relationships.  Maberry does an incredible job bridging this gap throughout Deep Silence, providing the reader with descriptions of previous events, recaps of character descriptions and history and making use of a number of references to previous missions and adventures captured in the other books in the Joe Ledger series.  There are also a number of scenes that appeared to be callbacks to previous books, although the author was able to describe the pertinent details of these events.  As a result, I was never lost at any point and really appreciated the recaps and detailed descriptions the book’s various point-of-view characters provided throughout the novel.  It also made me very curious about some of the previous books in the franchise, and I am now very interested in checking out some of these insane and fun-sounding adventures.  As a result, Deep Silence is an excellent book if you want to get an idea of what the Joe Ledger series is all about.  At the same time, established fans of this long-running series will be interested to see the significant changes that occur to the book’s main characters, as well as the scenes detailing where the series will potentially be going in the future.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Deep Silence was the way that Maberry presents the book’s narrative from multiple perspectives and across a range of different time periods.  Because of this, the reader is given a far wider view of the overall narrative.  Not only do they get to see the protagonists attempting to investigate and stop what is going on, but they get to see the antagonists coming up with their plans, discovering and researching their doomsday device over a period of years and then implementing their mission.  This also allows the reader to get a far deeper understanding of the antagonist’s objectives and mindscapes in committing these acts and what it costs them mentally and emotionally.  Nearly all the fun and eccentric characters working in the DMS get a few scenes told from their point of view.  This provides the reader with some high level, but easy to follow, scientific discussions, hacking sequences and the utilisation of incredibly exciting-sounding advanced espionage technology.  There is also a focus within Deep Silence of the politics around and behind the DMS, and how the organisation’s leader, the mysterious Mr Church (who is totally an alien, right?), deals with these situations.

While all of the other point-of-view characters are entertaining and it is intriguing to view their sides of the story, the best character has to be the series’s main protagonist, Joe Ledger.  Ledger is the extremely dangerous and slightly disturbed leader of the DMS field team, and has been at the forefront of all the adventures in this series.  It is interesting to note that Ledger is the only character in this book whose story is told from the first person perspective, which is fortunate because Ledger is one of the biggest smartasses in fiction, especially within the privacy of his head.  Nearly every single piece of the book told from Ledger’s point of view is filled with jokes, wisecracks, and exaggerated or sarcastic thoughts.  Ledger has some incredibly humorous observations about the world around him, especially the eccentric characters he encounters, and his thoughts are just as likely to be self-deprecating as they are to be insulting about the people he has to deal with.  He is also an eccentric being who does some incredibly funny things, from having fun with his opponents to humming the Mission Impossible theme as he breaks into a safe.  However, beneath this humorous exterior there is a deeply damaged character who is severely impacted by events that have occurred before and during this series.  Maberry spends significant time diving into this character’s history and psyche, which quickly gives the reader, even readers previously unfamiliar with the series, a good understanding of his life and the events that define him.  His deep and fractured mind becomes a key part of this story, especially when it encounters mind-altering alien crystal and events beyond the realm of human comprehension.  All of this helps create an amazing and incredibly relatable central character whom the reader becomes incredibly drawn to, and as a result, Ledger is one of the best things about this book.  Special mention should also be given to Ledger’s combat dog Ghost, who appears in nearly all the same scenes as Ledger and is just as much of an enjoyable character as his owner.

While the mad science elements and characters are great, Maberry has also ensured that this is the perfect book for those action junkies looking for fast-paced thrills.  Ledger is an absolute beast throughout this book and engages in a number of fantastic fights in a variety of different scenarios.  Maberry channels his love of martial arts through this character and includes a number of detailed and very quick fight scenes as Ledger dismantles his opponents with efficient skill.  The other characters are no slouches and there are number of great action sequences I enjoyed.  Two of my favourites have to be two separate and extended sequences which see Ledger and DMS’s Echo Team engage in massive fire fights with a range of opponents.  These scenes are absolutely incredible and make the reader feel like they are really in the middle of a gun battle.  The author takes pains to try and highlight how methodical and calm professional teams can be during battles while also highlighting the various strategies and combat advantages used.  The multiple perspectives come into play here perfectly, as the different members of Echo Team engage in various encounters around the main battle, really highlighting what an effective special ops team can accomplish in the field.  Maberry enhances the fun and the action to a crazy degree by also utilising the advanced technology available to the DMS agents.  This not only includes some insane and deadly weaponry, which is very cool in action, but also other pieces of advanced technology such as drones, body armour, goggles, and enhancements for Ghost that help turn the battles into massive and enjoyable set pieces.

Nothing, however, can top the sheer insanity that unfolds when the book’s antagonists unleash their super weapon against the world.  Maberry’s descriptive and skilled writing really brings these scenes to life.  The sheer devastation of the earthquakes that he describes is just incredible and very disturbing.  But nothing is more crazy or electrifying then the scenes where the people who are affected by the strange energy given off by the weapon go insane and start participating in a violent rampage against themselves or against each other.  Maberry pulls no punches here and all the violence is on full display, from terrible acts of violence against anyone around them to disturbing suicides or episodes of self-harm.  In many of these scenes the author attempts to get into the head of these characters and watch them slowly unfold from within.  This mostly prevalent with his protagonist, Joe Ledger, but other characters’ thoughts are shown.  Let’s just say you’ll never look at the Beatles song Revolution 9 the same again.  The biggest example of this insanity happens around the Capitol building in Washington DC, and quite frankly it reminded me of the church scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service, with the protagonists stuck in the middle of a crazy mob.

One of the more intriguing parts of Deep Silence is the side character of the President of the United States of America.  While this character is never explicitly named in the book, he is clearly supposed to be a Trump analogue.  The character is an easily manipulated, short-tempered, Twitter-obsessed moron who puts his own needs far above those of the country he is governing.  The resemblance to Trump is uncanny, and Maberry does an incredible job mirroring his arrogance and personality throughout the book.  While this character is a great addition by itself, Maberry spends a lot of time exploring how a character like this would deal with the advanced technology and extreme catastrophes that are a major part of this series.  The results are frustrating for the reader as they are forced to sit there and watch this character make all the wrong decisions and serve his own agenda or self-interest.  It was also very intriguing watching this President go up against the DMS as he routinely targets the department out of fear and ignorance.  The new political reality of Washington becomes a major factor throughout Deep Silence, and Maberry is understandably critical about how things are being run and the insanity currently gripping Washington.  It was very interesting to see Maberry incorporate the current unpredictable political reality of America into his new book, and readers will be very intrigued to see how this might impact the future of his long-running series.

I listened to the audiobook version of Deep Silence, narrated by Ray Porter.  The audiobook version does go for over 16 hours, so it’s one of the longer ones I have listened to lately.  That being said, due to its exceptional content, I found myself making a variety of excuses just to keep listening to this audiobook, and got through it very quickly.  The audiobook is an incredible way to experience this book, and I would highly recommend it, mainly because of Ray Porter’s narration.  Porter absolutely nails all of the characters and provides a number of amazing voices to fully capture the diverse accents and attitudes of this eccentric group of characters.  I was particularly enthralled with the calm, cool voice he gifted to the DMS Director, Mr Church, which really reminded me of Tom Hanks’s voice.  Special mention should also be given to his narration of the President.  The narrator created a fantastic Trump-like voice that fully conveyed the character’s high opinion of himself, as well as his dismissive and arrogant nature.  I actually had a visceral reaction when I heard that voice the first time, it was that good.  Porter’s narration for Joe Ledger was also perfect, as he does an incredible job portraying Ledger’s high-energy musings and the full tone of his personality.  Porter’s voice peaks and rises to meet the full intent of any of Ledger’s sentences, and he is a master at conveying Ledger’s innate sarcasm.  At the same time, he is also able to make his voice more serious and subdued during the darker scenes in which Ledger is deep within his head or his memories.  This is sterling work from Porter, and one of the best audiobook narrations I have ever listened to.  As a result, I highly recommend that the audiobook version of Deep Silence as the best way to experience this novel.

Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry once again takes his audience on a captivating thrill ride in the Joe Ledger Series.  Deep Silence provides the reader with an extraordinary and very engrossing story that proves extremely hard to put down.  Equally enjoyable for established fans of this long-running series and new readers who have yet to experience Maberry’s work, readers can and will have an incredible amount of fun with this book.  Best enjoyed in audiobook format, Deep Silence is guaranteed to make you a dedicated fan of the author and easily gets a five-star rating from me.

My Rating:

Five Stars

X-Men Red Volume 1: The Hate Machine by Tom Taylor, Mahmud Asrar and Pascal Alixe

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 18 September 2018

 

Writer Tom Taylor and his artistic team have created an excellent and thought-provoking new X-Men series that not only follows the reintroduction of one of comics’ most interesting characters to the turbulent Marvel Universe but once again examines the real world problems of hatred and prejudice.

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For years, Jean Grey’s fate has always been tied to the universe-ending Phoenix Force, the cosmic entity of rebirth and destruction that is constantly seeking the most powerful host it can find.  However, following her latest resurrection during the events of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, Jean has renounced the Phoenix power once and for all and is now determined to live her life on her own terms.  Still one of the most powerful mutants in the entire world, Jean Grey sets out to restore her connections and find her place in a world that has changed dramatically since her last death.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that mutants are still feared and hated by a world that doesn’t understand them.  Despite all the adventures and endeavours of Charles Xavier and his X-Men, animosity towards mutants has never been higher.  Determined to change the world for the better, the resurrected founding member of the X-Men sets out to achieve her vision for the future and change world opinion about mutants once and for all.  To do that, Jean first attempts to create a mutant nation at the UN.  But when she is framed for the murder of politician, Jean is declared a criminal and mutants are subject to greater hatred from mankind.

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Realising that someone must be behind the recent upswing in anti-mutant sentiment and determined to protect those mutants targeted by hatred, Jean forms a new team of X-Men, made up of Nightcrawler, Storm, Namor, Gambit, Gentle, Wolverine (Laura Kinney – X-23), Honey Badger (Wolverine’s adorable clone) and newcomer Trinary.  But even as Jean and her team fight to save those mutants being targeted, more hatred and attacks are occurring around the world.  The sinister Cassandra Nova is determined to wipe mutants out once and for all and views Jean Grey as the greatest threat to this goal.

Following the end of his All-New Wolverine series, Australian author Tom Taylor returns at the head of a brand new X-Men series, X-Men Red, which takes fans back to the basics of the X-Men franchise.  Volume 1 of X-Men Red is made up of issues #1-5 of this new series, as well as Annual #1.  After enjoying Taylor’s work in All-New Wolverine (check out my review here: https://unseenlibrary.com/2018/09/08/all-new-wolverine-volumes-1-6-complete-series-by-tom-taylor/), I was excited to see him continue to work with Marvel, especially as it allows him to expand on characters and story elements he introduced in his previous Marvel series.  Most of the artistic work in this new series has been produced by veteran artist Mahmud Asrar, who has significant work in DC, Image, Marvel and other publishers.  X-Men fans may be familiar with his work on All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men.  Asrar was the main artist for issues #1-5, while the work on Annual #1, which is placed at the start of the volume, was drawn by Pascal Alixe.

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It is always fun when starting a new superhero team comic book series made up of established characters to see which heroes the creative team will include in their version of the team.  Taylor has certainly chosen an intriguing and previously unseen mixture of characters for this new X-Men series, and it is interesting to see which characters he focuses on.  The central character of this new team is the newly resurrected Jean Grey, the red in the series title.  This is one of the few times we see Jean step up to lead a team, as she is no longer in the shadow of her mentors or former lovers.  Aside from Jean, the main team members are Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Honey Badger, who are featured in all the issues contained within this first volume.  It was great to see Nightcrawler given such a prominent role in the comic, and it feels like it’s been a while since he’s been such a major character within an X-Men series.  I also liked new character Trinary, who is introduced in this series and is given an interesting set of powers.  Trinary is from India, and has technopathy powers, or the ability to manipulate technology.  Introduced as a new mutant who is attempting to fight the good fight in her own way, Trinary is given a key role in the series understanding the full nature of the technological attacks of the volume’s antagonist, while also taking over a sentinel to use as the team’s new primary source of transportation.  I think this character is given a great introduction, and could have an interesting future in the Marvel universe.  Other characters, Namor, Gentile, Gambit and Storm join the team at various points in the volume, and have a slightly reduced role, appearing for some of the big team ups, with only some short introductory storylines.

I was especially happy to see Taylor transplant the main characters of his previous All-New Wolverine series, Wolverine and Honey Badger, into his next project.  As I mentioned in my previous review, this version of Wolverine, Laura Kinney, also known as X-23, has always been one of my favourite X-Men characters, so I was very happy to see her used again in this series.  She plays a similar role in this team to the original Wolverine, as the silent infiltrator and bodyguard who is loyal to the team’s leader, who in this case is Jean rather than Professor X.  Just like in All-New Wolverine, the heart and soul of this series is definitely Honey Badger, Laura’s clone, who, as well as being a full member of the team, is the series’ comic relief.  Her humorous interactions with all the other characters in the book, especially the stern and serious characters, add a good amount of levity to the book.  Having her refer to Namor as Abs-lantis, or making Gambit hurriedly justify his actions for blowing up Honey Badger by saying it was “for strategic reasons” is particularly amusing and definitely made me smile.  However, the best line in the book has to be given to Wolverine, who casually replies to Jean’s amusement about Laura’s excitement about being in an underwater city with “Being Wolverine doesn’t make me impervious to the wonder of a #$%@%$& mermaid”.

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One of the most defining things about the start of this new series is how it focused on the evolution of the character of Jean Grey.  Despite being a founding member of the X-Men, Jean’s most significant storylines have usually been about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine, or her connection to the Phoenix Force.  Now, after coming back to life, Jean has stepped out of these currently deceased characters’ shadows and starts her own attempt to change the world, as she is no longer content to return to her old life.  Essentially, Taylor is trying to set Jean up as the new Professor X, with her own vision for mutant kind and her determination to change the world for the better and end the current level of hatred and prejudice.  While she has her own unique style and vision, there are a lot of call backs to the original Professor X, including the standard “To me, my X-Men” saying that Professor X and other X-Men leaders utilised throughout X-Men history.  I also enjoyed seeing a Jean Grey that is no longer defined by her relationship with the Phoenix Force, especially as Jean lets it be known that the Phoenix Force was holding her back.

It was also nice to see Jean repair the relationships she previously lost with several prominent X-Men characters, as well as establishing new relationships with characters she’s never had a chance to meet before.  This is particularly prevalent in Annual #1, which starts the volume, as she reunites with her surrogate X-Men family, which is heart-warming, especially as there is a focus on her friendship with Nightcrawler, who spends the volume as her BFF.  I also really enjoyed seeing her think about her relationships with Cyclops and Wolverine.  For the first time in X-Men history, Jean is alive when Cyclops and Wolverine are both dead, and must focus on the world without the two men she’s loved.  As such, she spends time adventuring with the daughters of these two men, Rachel Grey and the new Wolverine, and meeting up with them is one of the first priorities she has returning to the world.  I liked how one of the definitive love triangles of Marvel Comics is acknowledged in this new series, even though two points of the triangle are currently dead, and the focus of Jean’s relationship with the next generation of these characters was a clever idea.  I’ll be very interested to see what relationships are explored in the future, with all sorts of different iterations or offspring of Jean and Cyclops out in the world at the moment.  It will also be very intriguing when the original Wolverine is resurrected to see what role he plays in this series, as the creative team will have to have a look at the relationships that this character has with Jean, the current Wolverine and Honey Badger, a new daughter character he’ll have to interact with.
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Since its earliest days, X-Men has always been about the fight against prejudice, as the hatred the mutant characters experience has often been seen as an analogy for social issues such as racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.  Taylor and the creative team behind X-Men Red continue this tradition of using their X-Men series to reflect social issues, in this case focusing on modern issues such as the latest rise of the extreme right-wing, intense nationalism, islamophobia, fear and concern about refugees and migrants, as well as racism.  All of these social issues are reflected in the portrayed hatred of mutants in this volume, with various elements of recent world events shown directed towards the mutant characters.  For example, you have Poland attempting to use their military to round up and detain mutants, similar to how some countries have been using their military to stop or detain refugees.  In another very unconcealed scene, rioters carrying tiki torches start attacking mutants, not considering them people, and even killing one mutant counter protestor, in events that are reminiscent of those of Charlottesville.  There is also a focus on the damage or the impact that social media and the internet can have on these events, as many of the anti-mutant events or rhetoric are contained online.  This will be very familiar to readers, as it is impossible not to see the online hatred that many anonymous people direct towards various groups around the world, and at least the one in the comic may be the result of supervillain plot.  Overall this focus on prejudice is a familiar subject to X-Men readers, and many will appreciate how the creative team have tried to bring in modern issues in this new series.  The creative team do end Volume 1 with a message of hope, with some of these antagonist people given a proper understanding of an opposing viewpoint, momentarily giving up their hatred and prejudice, and is something aspire for in the real world.

The artwork within Volume 1 of X-Men Red is just gorgeous and a real highlight of the book.  As mentioned above, Alixe does the artwork for Annual 1, while Asrar does the artwork for issues #1-5.  Both artists’ works are visually distinctive and give the reader something different when it comes to character design, displays of power and fight sequences.  Asrar in particular does some gorgeous backdrops and landscapes, as the stories he is illustrating see the characters go to all sorts of locations, including India, underwater cities and Wakanda.  There are a lot of well-drawn action scenes throughout this volume, although I found the final pages of issue #1 to be some of the most powerfully drawn in the entire volume.  Not only is there a somewhat graphic scene for a Marvel comic but the final panel shows the look of despair on the main characters as the volume’s antagonist makes her first move.  The artistic team of X-Men Red have outdone themselves in this first volume, creating some superbly drawn artworks that are catch the eye and the imagination.

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X-Men Red takes this new version of this iconic superhero team back to the sort of storylines that made the X-Men such a smash hit in the first place.  With a resurrected Jean Grey taking the lead, Australian author Tom Taylor and his creative team have cleverly brought current social issues to the forefront of their new series while also doing some superb character work, including redefining one of the original X-Men.  This is a great start to an amazing new comic series and a fantastic read for fans of the X-Men franchise.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger

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Publishers: Zaffre

                       Hachette Audio

Publication Date – 12 June 2018

 

Prepare to have your fear of the dark reignited in this suspenseful and creative new novel from one of the best horror/thriller writers in the business, which takes the reader on one hell of an adventure.

The world is full of many secrets, cover-ups and mysteries, all of which have been hidden from the public by the academic elite.  At least, that’s what Nolan Moore would have you believe.  Nolan is an amateur archaeologist and former screenwriter whose web series, The Anomaly Files, attempts to uncover weird things from history.  Derided by the experts, The Anomaly Files has a devoted following of conspiracy theorists which Nolan hopes to turn into a television deal, and his latest episode might just be the break that he needs.

Following clues left by an explorer in 1909, Nolan and his production team travel to the Grand Canyon, hoping to find a hidden cave that may contain evidence of an ancient civilisation unrecorded in history.  For once, Nolan appears to be right, as the team manage to find the opening to a cave high up in a remote part of the canyon.  Exploring, they find a cave system filled with mysterious items and artefacts unlike anything ever discovered in this area before.  Their elation at this unique archaeological breakthrough is quickly quashed when they find themselves trapped within the cave, cut off from the outside world.

As their lights start to fade and their supplies begin to dwindle, Nolan and the team hold out hope for a rescue.  However, it soon becomes clear that something is very wrong.  Something alive is entombed with them and there is far more to this cave than they could have ever imagined.  As the team try to survive an increasingly desperate situation, Nolan must uncover the secrets of the structure they find themselves trapped in before they all die in darkness.

Michael Rutger is actually a pseudonym for bestselling author Michael Marshall, who has also written as Michael Marshall Smith.  Rutger has been writing since 1994 and is known for his intriguing science fiction novels, which often have a strong horror/thriller element to them.  The author is probably best known for his creepy 2002 release The Straw Men, which spawned two sequels, but his bibliography is littered with a number of other powerful and terrifying novels.  Fans of Rutger’s previous work will no doubt enjoy the quick reference to The Straw Men contained within The Anomaly, and it will be interesting to see if Rutger goes back to that series in the future.  I chose to listen to The Anomaly on audiobook.  The audiobook is narrated by Brandon Williams, and, at just under 10 hours in length, it doesn’t take too long to get to the heart of this great story.

One of the most enjoyable things about The Anomaly is the tense atmosphere that Rutger instils with his skilled writing and terrifying creative elements.  The reader really gets a sense of the desperation and despair slowly creeping up on the characters as the story progresses, even if they attempt to keep a brave face with each other.  With a limited and dwindling number of lights being held by the characters, Rutger is able to create quite a few opportunities for his protagonists to be forced to crawl around in the dark in this hostile environment.  The oppressive darkness takes a real shape during the book and at times has a near physical sense to it as the characters deal with it in different ways.  I felt that the story contained a well-balanced combination of action, exploration, archaeological and scientific exposition, despair-filled periods of rest, several gruesome and traumatic scenes and a surprising amount of humour from the characters.  However, even as the characters crack jokes at each other, you can feel the darkness surrounding them and you are constantly wondering what is going to happen next.

Special mention needs to go to Rutger’s creation of The Anomaly Files webcast show that was a major feature of the book’s early plot and the main plot reason that this group of characters are in this situation.  The author spends significant time describing the creation and filming process behind this show, and it’s intriguing how similar it sounds to some real-life conspiracy theory shows or broadcasts.  This accurate portrayal of a web show adds a lot of realism to the story, especially as it becomes clear that the characters are in over their heads and are different from the usual group of leading experts or military types you’d usually find in this type of novel.

I am not going to go into too much detail about the mystery of the cave as I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  Trying to figure out what exactly is behind the events affecting the protagonists is a big part of the experience, and too many details could potentially ruin the book’s impact.  Suffice to say, this central mystery is a very unique and creative idea from Rutger that is made up of a variety of different elements.  It was very intriguing to see the full extent of this central idea be revealed to the protagonists as the story progresses and readers will be astounded by what Rutger has come up with.  This mystery is made up of an interesting mixture of aspects from a number of different genres, and the author combines them together into one very intriguing conclusion with some massive implications.  I really enjoyed this exploration into the weird, and some of the things that harassed the protagonists as a result of the central mystery element worked very well with the tense nature of the story.

One of the defining features of The Anomaly is the strong focus on the characters entering the cave.  The readers grow to really care for these characters, and quite a lot of time is spent exploring their past and showing them as people who don’t deserve to be trapped in this terrible situation.  Most of the book’s focus is on the protagonist and narrator Nolan Moore, who is the cynical host of The Anomaly Files.  Nolan is a great central protagonist to have tell this story, as he is an observant character who has witty and at times piercing insights into his fellow characters while also providing the reader with his detailed examinations of the locations around him.  Despite coming off as a bit arrogant at the start of the book, the character’s brutal honesty about himself, as well as the exploration of certain parts of his past, does a lot to humanise him to the reader and make him into a character you can really care about.  This humanisation is furthered by his attempts to save his team and the extreme guilt that he feels for having brought his team into this place.

While Nolan is a great central character, Rutger also spends a significant amount of time focusing on the side characters, who in some ways are just as important as Nolan to the book’s overall story.  My absolute favourite of these characters had to be The Anomaly Files British producer, Ken, who spends the entire time quipping, swearing and generally making the most sarcastic comments he can, no matter how dire the situation gets.  Most of the book’s humour comes from Ken’s dialogue, as he makes it clear he’ll be joking and insulting the world right up till his death.  While this sort of character seems an odd choice for a thriller/horror novel, I felt his sarcastic attitude and comments fit the tense tone perfectly as he encapsulates a lot of feelings a normal person would have in that situation.  Ken is also one of those characters you can’t help but love and who you really, really hope will survive all the terrible stuff happening around them.

Molly the assistant producer and Pierre the cameraman also get a significant amount of focus in the book and are really good side characters.  Molly goes from being the most calm and collected character at the start of the book to the person most affected by the darkness and atmosphere of the cave.  Watching her try and work through her issues is quite inspiring, and there is even a descent exploration of the root of these deeper issues.  Not much of Pierre’s backstory is shown; however, the reader gets a good sense of his character throughout the book, and Nolan’s changing opinion and growing admiration for him mirrors the reader’s thoughts on him.  Other main characters include the ambitious reporter, Gemma, and Feather, the new age hippy who acts as a representative of the show’s sponsor.  Both of these characters get some decent exploration in the book, as well as some great scenes that make them stand out in their own ways.

I really enjoyed the audiobook version of The Anomaly.  I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in finding out more about this compelling story.  I felt that having this book read out to me helped expand on the story’s tension and dark atmosphere, and it was a fantastic way to enjoy this amazing story.  Brandon Williams’s narration of the audiobook is excellent, and his voices for the characters are a highlight of this format.  Williams does a great job capturing the book’s point-of-view character, Nolan, very well, and the audience gets a real sense of the character’s cynical nature and inner thoughts through the terrific narration.  I absolutely loved the voice that Williams created for Ken, as he gives the character a very distinctive English accent that fits Ken’s sarcastic personality perfectly.  The accent is just wonderful and actually reminded me a lot of Matt Ryan’s voice for John Constantine in some of the modern television shows, especially when he swears (‘bollocks’, for example, is used multiple times).  The rest of the voices that Williams creates work well for the other characters and allow the readers to distinguish between them, although the less said about the ‘South African’ accent for minor character Dylan, the better.

With a powerfully intense atmosphere, The Anomaly is an exceptional horror/thriller from bestselling author Michael Rutger.  This is an amazing book, and readers will have a lot of fun trying to unravel the book’s central mystery, while desperately hoping their favourite characters survive this chilling adventure.  Addictive and terrifying in equal measures, this is an outstanding book that comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a weird, thrilling or horror based read.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 28 August 2018

 

Hot on the heels of his sensational first trilogy, Robert Jackson Bennett has produced another outstanding fantasy read with Foundryside, a bold and exiting novel that brings together an excellent mixture of action, intrigue and humour and powers it with a great location and some inventive and enjoyable new fantasy elements.

In the city of Tevanne, everything runs on scrivings, magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient and allow them do incredible things.  Scrivings give the city of Tevanne incredible power and influence, and the creation of scrivings has been refined into an industrial process controlled by four powerful merchant houses.  These merchant houses have complete control of the city, and those living outside their compounds are a poor, desperate bunch, attempting to eek a living from a city that doesn’t care for them.

For escaped slave Sancia Grado, the only way to survive is to steal.  Gifted with unique abilities, Sancia is one of the city’s most successful thieves, who dreams of escaping from both the city and the discomfort her abilities provide her.  When Sancia is offered a significant sum of money to steal a valuable artefact from the heavily guarded city docks, she jumps at the chance.  But not everything is as it seems, and after stealing the item, Sancia is betrayed and is now being hunted by shadowy figures with incredibly advanced scrived devices.

At the same time, the guard captain Gregor Dandolo is also hunting for Sancia, determined to bring her to justice for her destructive theft.  Caught in the middle of a conspiracy that spans the entire city, Sancia and Gregor are thrust together and must search for new allies if they are to survive.  As the mysterious assassins descend upon them, their lives may depend on the abilities of one powerful artefact.  But while they find a way to fight back, an ancient evil is about to be unleashed which could bring the entire city down around them.

Bennet is a well-established fantasy writer who is probably best known for The Divine Cities series, which concluded in 2017.  Readers may also be familiar with some of his standalone works, including The Troupe, Mr. Shivers and the science fiction book The Company ManFoundryside is the latest book from Bennet and represents the start of the captivating new The Founders trilogy.  Foundryside contains a powerful and captivating story set within a fascinating city and containing some very unique magical elements that are a truly enjoyable part of the book.  The main story contains a significant amount of adventure as the book’s protagonists attempt to uncover a conspiracy around the origin of the book’s central magical element.  Readers will be left guessing about the secrets behind the conspiracy, while several of the book’s dramatic twists will leave them reeling from the emotional gut punches.  The final conclusion of the book sets up some exciting options for the rest of the series, which I will definitely be checking out when they are released.

One of the main highlights of this book is the fantastically unique magical fantasy element known as scrivings.  Scrivings are a form of magical writings that enhance items they are engraved on, giving them certain properties, abilities or autonomy.  For example, carts can be scrived to make them travel from point A to point B, items can be scrived to move at a greater speed by making them believe they are dropping from a great height, and materials such as wood can be made to believe they have the hardness or consistency of stone.  There are a huge range of elaborate rules around scrivings, and the author has presented some fascinating background lore which provides some interesting explanations around the creation and utilisation of these items.  An unexpected side effect of the scriving process is that the scrived items are given a form of magical sentience.  Throughout the book, Sancia is at times gifted with the ability to listen to the listen to the thoughts of the scrived items, and the items are shown to be shouting out their defined roles and the rules they have to follow, often in the form of riddles.  There are quite a few funny scenes when some of the characters attempt to manipulate scrived items by exploiting loopholes in their programming, and watching people and magical items have a debate is very amusing.  The use of scriving throughout Foundryside allows the author to create some fantastic and, at times, over-the-top action sequences as the characters wield weapons that have been imbued with the ability to hit harder or faster than conventional, or items that give other risky benefits in combat.  The hidden history of the scrivings is also quite intriguing, and watching the characters uncover it is an essential and enjoyable part of the plot.  Overall, Bennett’s magical scrivings are a fantastic part of this book that readers will really love to discover.

In addition to the creative magical elements, Bennett has also set his story in an amazing new fantasy cityscape.  The city of Tevanne is full of scrived items, and Bennett has done a great job inserting these magical items into every part of the city’s day-to-day life.  An interesting feature of this city is the way that significant portions of the city has been broken up into ‘campos’, merchant enclaves where scrived items are created at an industrial level.  Each of these four campos is ruled over by a powerful merchant house, and a large amount of the book’s excellent intrigue elements are fuelled by the competition between these houses.  The campos also serve as interesting social boundaries, with the people living inside having everything that they need, while those living outside, in the area known as the Commons or Foundryside, are barely getting by.  Having areas of the city completely controlled by rich merchants is an element with a lot of potential, especially when these merchants have their own private guards and are essentially laws unto themselves.  Bennett makes full use of this, creating thrilling sequences that feature his characters sneaking into and around these heavily guarded compounds.  The control and distribution of power, here represented by the creation of scrivings, is also a compelling part of the book, and Bennett has created some great characters and scenarios around this development.

I really have to mention the strong and funny characters that are featured throughout Foundryside and are an incredible part of this exciting story.  The main protagonist is Sancia Grado, an escaped slave and thief who finds herself thrust into the centre of a deep conspiracy.  There is a lot going on with Sancia, with her tragic backstory, her unique scriving based powers that are both a blessing and a curse, and her fun and fierce attitude developed from a life on the streets.  All these elements combine together into one awesome character, and Bennett uses her to full effect as his central protagonist.  The book’s other main characters are also quite entertaining and enjoyable.  There is Gregor Dandolo, the tough and law-abiding soldier whose sense of duty draws him into the middle of the conspiracy.  Gregor is a very action based character, but his backstory is also quite traumatic and he shares some great moments with Sancia, a character he initially has very little in common with.  There are also some amazing scenes where Gregor must come to terms with the actions of his family’s merchant house, as well as some strong and emotive twists involving his history.  Other characters include the master scriver, Orso Ignacio, who acts as the book’s resident mad scientist and comes with some very fun ideas, from an audacious break in plan to a funny solution to his legal problems at the end of the book.  I also really enjoyed Orso’s assistant, Berenice, who Bennett uses to great effect as the book’s straight woman for the more outrageous characters, especially Orso, while also serving as Sancia’s love interest.  While all these characters are really enjoyable focuses for the book, the hands-down best character has to be Clef, the sentient key.  Before this book I would have had a hard time believing that a talking key could be a great central character, but I’m very happy that Bennett has proven me wrong.  Not only is Clef a fun and enjoyable character that the reader becomes strongly attached to, but a huge amount of Foundryside’s best humour comes from Clef’s banter and observations.  Bennett has really outdone himself when it comes to these characters and I had a great time watching their adventures.

With an amazing story, fantastic humour, enjoyable and memorable characters and some unique and fascinating fantasy elements, Bennett has once again shown the world what a talented fantasy writer he is.  Foundryside is another outstanding release from Bennett, and I had a lot of fun with this book.  Readers of this book are in for a real treat and they will be very eager to see where The Founders trilogy goes next.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Runaways Volume 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

From bestselling young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and exciting Marvel artist Kris Anka comes the revival we have all been waiting for, with the return of Runaways.

Years ago, six young friends found out a terrible truth: their parents were members of a supervillain group known as The Pride and were working towards the destruction of the planet.  Uncovering their hidden powers and strengths, these friends, genius Alex Wilder, the sorceress Nico Minoru (Sister Grimm), alien Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky), mutant Molly Hayes (Princess Powerful/Bruiser), mad scientist offspring Chase Stein (Talkback) and proud dinosaur owner and daughter of two time travellers Gertrude Yorkes (Arsenic with her deinonychus, Old Lace), became the Runaways to escape their parents’ evil plans.

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After the death of Alex and all of their parents, the surviving Runaways become family and even brought in new members, including the cyborg Victor, the Skrull Xavin and the time displaced mutant Klara.  While the team’s plans to live in peace were often disrupted by their forced heroics, for a time they were happy.  But even the best families have a hard time staying together in the Marvel Universe, and following the death of Gert, Xavin’s forced departure for the stars, the events of Murderworld and the elevation of several members to the Avengers, the Runaways have gone their separate ways.

However, one former Runaway has had a hard time letting go of the past.  Stealing a time machine, the team’s wildcard member, Chase, has gone back in time to fix his biggest regret: the death of his girlfriend, Gertrude.  But being brought back to life several years in the future is tough, and all Gertrude wants to do is reunite with her friends, even if they are now older than her.  Chase is his old goofy self, but Nico and Carolina have moved on with their lives, , Victor is now just a head and Molly has moved in with her grandmother.  Will the Runaways get together again, or have their subsequent adventures affected their relationships too much? And who is the evil scientist stalking them from afar?

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Runaways was a ground breaking series originally released in 2003 that focused on a fresh new group of heroes with no previous connections to other characters in the Marvel Universe.  Created by Brian K Vaughan of Y: The Last Man and Saga fame and artist Adrian Alphona, Runaways represents some of their most significant work with Marvel.  Runaways was an exciting tale of teenage rebellion which was amplified by the superhero elements.  Featuring some incredibly iconic characters, the initial series of Runaways featured a fantastic enclosed story about crime and heroics in Los Angeles with only minimal inclusions from the outside Marvel Universe.  Featuring characters who acted in a contrary way to the other superheroes by actively avoiding fights, making fun of costumes and team names (they never actually referred to themselves as the Runaways) and only using superhero monikers ironically, this was a fun series with some clever new ideas.

Following this initial run, the story became a more traditional superhero series, focusing on the adventures of the titular heroes as they fought crime and other threats in LA.  There were a series of great adventures during this period, which included memorable events such as the tragic loss of Gert, Xavin’s sacrifice, several team-ups with the Young Avengers and involvements in the Civil War and Secret Invasion crossover events.  The series would abruptly end in 2009, and readers would have to wait years to see a significant follow-up.  The characters have appeared in several other series, including Daken: Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy.  However, the characters would not significantly return until Avengers Arena, where Nico and Chase found themselves trapped in Murderworld, and Avengers Arena’s follow up series, Avengers Undercover, which saw the return of Alex Wilder.  At the same time, Victor would join the cast of Avengers A.I.  An alternate version of the Runaways got their own series as part of the 2015 Secret Wars crossover even, and Nico would eventually become a member of the female Avengers team in A-Force.
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With the release of 2017s Runaways television show, a new comic series of Runaways was announced by Marvel which saw the first run of the original characters in nearly nine years.  This new series is helmed by acclaimed young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and dedicated Marvel artist Kris Anka.  Volume 1 of their run of Runways, Find Your Way Home, contains issues #1-6 of the series, with a second volume to be released in October 2018.

Runaways has long been one of my favourite series, and is probably one of the best comic examinations of young teenage characters that Marvel has ever produced.  As a result, I was very excited to get my copy of Find Your Way Home, and headed into this new series with high expectations.  I was not at all disappointed by the result and really enjoyed this new series.  This first volume expertly captures the heart and soul of the original series, reunites several fan favourite characters, and skilfully addresses all the tragic events that have impacted this team over the last few years.

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The first thing that can be seen in this series is the extreme emotional damage that most of the characters have experienced over the last few years and the strain this has placed on the team.  Because of all the pressures in their lives, the Runaways have disbanded and each have gone their separate ways.  This appears to have affected team members Nico and Chase the most because of their traumatic experiences in the Avengers Arena series.  Nico comes across as very emotionally compromised from the very first scene, while Chase is still obsessed with his greatest tragedy, the sacrifice Gertrude made to save his life.  The other Runaways are just as damaged in their own separate ways.  Karolina is apparently trying to live a normal life, but while she seems unhappy, she is the most reluctant to re-join the team, and her eventual return results in emotional upheaval between her and Nico.  After dying, Gert finds herself alive again in the future with older versions of her friends, as well as an adult boyfriend.  She spends most of the volume trying to deal with these significant changes, the fact that her only real family fractured after her death, and the emotional trauma she experienced dying.  After his death in Vision, Victor spends the entire series as a disembodied head, and keeps his status hidden for most of the volume as he tries to work out if he wants to remain online and re-join the team.  Of all the characters, Molly seems to be the most together, as she is being looked after by her grandmother and is her usually bubbly and high-energy self.  However, her behaviour disguises the fact she knows about some of the deep problems happening around her, and her emotional breakdown at the end of the volume is quiet heartbreaking to behold.  Overall, the creative team handle these deep emotional issues well, and I really appreciated the fact that they did not deny or shy away from the trauma that these characters experienced in other Marvel series.

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Despite the high level of emotional trauma, there are quite a few very nice moments within the book that fans of the original Runaways series will really appreciate.  The team coming together at the end of the volume to save Molly and Gert is an amazing moment.  After viewing all of the above trauma, it was also great to see the team decide to get back together to become each other’s emotional support.  I also challenge anyone not to get emotional during the scene where Gertrude is reunited with Old Lace, as the two mentally connected friends are finally reunited for the first time in years.  Once again, the youngest Runaway, Molly, is the heart and soul of the team, and it is great to see that despite her age, she is still one of the most emotionally mature, giving sage advice and actually being the only person to notice the threats around them or the fact that Victor’s head is rolling his eyes at the events around him.  I also love that she still has the same Marvel fangirl attitude that she had in the original series, as she spends time wearing Captain Marvel inspired leggings.  Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe as she did before (the issue she spent running around with Wolverine is one of the funniest bits in Runaways’ previous run).

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One of the more interesting parts of this volume is that it focuses more on the character interactions than on action or adventure.  There really is not too much violence until the end of the book, and even then their biggest fight is against a group of psychic cats whom they do not actually want to hurt or kill.  I think that this is a good choice for the first volume, as this allows them to really focus on the characters, while also showing off the difference this series has to a classic comic book story.  Despite the lack of action, the series starts with one of the best scenes in the entire volume, when Chase appears in the middle of Nico’s apartment with a mortally wounded Gert.  Nico, despite her shock and the implications of what Chase has done, tries to use her magic to try to save Gert.  While Nico is a powerful magic user, all her magic is tied up in The Staff of One, her parent’s magical staff that has bonded to Nico’s body.  The Staff of One can bend reality to what Nico requests, however, it will only do the specific spell once.  This far along in their adventures, Nico has used a lot of spells already, including ‘heal’, and must use a range of more obscure or very specific statements to try and achieve her goals.   The first sequence where she uses a huge range of different spells really shows off the unique and in some ways limited nature of Nico’s powers and really shows emotional depth right off the bat as the characters get more and more desperate in their attempts to save Gert, and there is palpable relief when they manage to save her.

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This series of Runaways has a new artist at its helm, Kris Anka, and as a result the art style of Find Your Way Home is slightly different from the previous series.  It still works well to show off the story, and the depictions of the characters’ superpowers being used are pretty cool.  The new character designs are interesting, as Nico, Chase and Karolina are each given a different design to reflect how they’ve aged up since the last series.  Nico looks particularly worn and sad at the start of the comic, and is definitely showing off the strain of her adventure.  Anka has created an interesting look for Chase, and he now looks like a cross between a beach bum and a mad scientist.  The other characters, Molly, Victor, Gert and Old Lace retain similar styles to those they had in the previous series.  These similarities make a lot of sense, as Gert has time-travelled from the previous series, Victor is a cyborg head and Old Lace is a dinosaur.  The artist has also chosen not to change Molly’s age too much, and thankfully she retains her distinctive looks and hats.  One of the highlights of Anka’s work is the dinosaur Old Lace, and quite a lot of the book’s humour can be seen in her funny reactions and antics.  Overall, I really enjoyed the new art style of the book and found that the new character designs suited the book’s necessary changes.

Runaways return in top form with this fantastic first volume, which sticks true to the core of the beloved original series while also going off in some interesting new directions.  Rowell has created an intense narrative that expertly plucks at the heartstrings and examines all the problems and horrors that this group of young heroes have experienced since their initial run.  This is a superb new start to an excellent series.  I’m so happy to have my Runaways back, and I can’t wait to see how they resolve some storylines from the original series.  This is definitely a must-read for fans of the original series, but this is also the perfect chance for new readers to find out about this awesome superhero family.

My Rating:

Five Stars