Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 13 July 2021)
Series: Rogue Team International – Book Two / Joe Ledger – Book 12
Length: 18 hours and 29 minutes
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of my absolute favourite series returns with an absolute bang as Jonathan Maberry produces another incredible, intense and thrilling Joe Ledger novel with Relentless, the second novel in the Rogue Team International series.
Readers of my blog will be well aware of how much I love Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. This science fiction thriller series, which follows the titular protagonist and his team of elite soldiers as they fight all manner of crazy scientific and supernatural threats, is so much fun and is one of my favourite series. After reading one of these fantastic books a few years ago, I sat down and listened to the entire series, from Patient Zero, all the way to the final entry, Deep Silence. It also led me to some of Maberry’s other novels, including last year’s excellent horror novel, Ink, which was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020. The author also started the Rogue Team International series in 2019 as a sequel series to the original Joe Ledger books, featuring the same characters and universe. The first entry in this sequel series, Rage, got a five-star rating from me and was one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019. Due to Rage’s epic conclusion, as well as how much I enjoy Maberry’s writing, I have been eagerly awaiting Relentless for some time now and I ended up being blown away by how awesome it was.
During Rogue Team International’s (RTI) first mission, Joe Ledger and his team faced off against the dangerous pairing of criminal mastermind Kuga and his fearsome enforcer Rafael Santoro, barely managing to stop their insidious, world-changing plot. However, their victory came at a terrible price, as Santoro delivered fiery vengeance on his foe by killing every member of Ledger’s family in a revenge attack at Christmas. Santoro and Kuga hoped that their destructive blow would mentally destroy their hated enemy forever; instead, it unleashed their worst nightmare.
After returning to the field, Ledger leads an RTI team to an advanced laboratory where terrible genetic, biological and cybernetic experiments are being performed. While the mission begins as a textbook RTI operation, everything changes when Ledger comes across a room full of deformed lab subjects and their cruel tormentors. With his already fragile psyche pushed to the limit by the death of his family, Ledger finally snaps and lets something dark and dangerous from deep within take control. With blood and bodies trailing in his wake, Ledger abandons his team and goes truly rogue.
Accompanied only by his loyal combat dog, Ghost, Ledger rampages across Europe, killing and destroying anything related to Kuga’s operation and questioning anyone who knows where he and Santoro are. Even more concerning for the villains, Ledger is also beginning to get close to their next major operation. Utilising cutting edge technology, Kuga’s group have developed biologically enhanced super soldiers, equipped with some of the most destructive weapons available. Their next plan will unleash a devastating attack within America that will change the political and social landscape for generations to come. However, not even their most advanced troops may be enough to stop the dark thing that Ledger has become, and Kuga is soon forced to make a Faustian deal with someone, or something, whose evil eclipses Ledger’s insanity. Can Ledger defeat his hated foes and save his own soul at the same time, or will he finally be overwhelmed by his own inner darkness?
Once again Maberry shows why he is one of the most exciting and impressive thriller writers out there as Relentless was another epic and wildly captivating novel. This latest Rogue Team International novel contains a complex and thrilling narrative that sets its already complex main character into a horrific quest for vengeance and redemption. Throw in an incredible amount of action, a very clever and well-written story, and some memorable characters, and you have an outstanding novel that gets a full five-star rating from me.
In Relentless, Maberry produces an extremely intense and fast-paced novel that is both character driven and loaded with some of the best action you will ever read. Following up from the dramatic conclusion of Rage, Relentless is one of the darker and more inventive books in the Joe Ledger franchise, presenting the reader with a brutal revenge story as the protagonist puts the rogue in Rogue Team International to kill anyone associated with his foes. Maberry once again makes great use of the unique writing style that has been such a hallmark of this series, with the novel made up of shorter chapters told from a vast number of different perspectives, including several interludes set in the past, to produce a more complex and multifaceted tale and showcase the elaborate plans of the antagonists.
However, the author also tries something new in this book, with a noticeable change of focus away from the protagonist for a good portion of the early novel to highlight some major character developments. This results in a bit less humour during the first part of the book, but this is more than made up for with a darker and more powerful storyline. The story focus does eventually revert to the series’ usual form about halfway through the novel, just in time for the protagonist to find himself with information about a complex and intriguing evil plot that only he can stop. This leads to a pretty epic conclusion with some fun twists and several major moments of worry and surprise, especially as you get some massive concurrent scenes as Ledger and his allies battle the enemy in several destructive and dangerous battles. The action throughout Relentless is typical Maberry, with some very detailed and graphic depictions of the techniques and damage done, and it is near impossible not to get sucked in the combat as the powerful scenes unfold. Readers should be warned that parts of this novel can get a little dark and gruesome as Maberry pulls no punches, but it is very much worth sticking through the blood and guts to see the captivating narrative unfold. I quickly became sucked into his awesome story, and I loved every second of it, managing to finish it off in extremely short order. It looks like Maberry has some intriguing plans for the future of this series, and I for one am extremely excited for that.
Like most of the Joe Ledger/Rogue Team International novels, Maberry has made Relentless extremely accessible to new readers. While I personally would suggest reading Rage first, due to the tragic ending that plays into the events of this novel, people unfamiliar with the preceding books can jump in here and still have an excellent time reading this book. Maberry does an amazing job recapping all the key events of the prior novels, including character bios, descriptions of technology and summaries of various cases. As a result, the reader is never left in the dark about what is happening and who is being talked about, although the certain significance of some characters or revelations might be slightly tempered until the protagonist describes them. One thing I would note after having read all the Joe Ledger books in the last couple of years is that Maberry tends to reuse the same phrases and terms when it comes to describing certain characters or events. While this was fine the first few times, by book 12 in the overall series, it is very noticeable and slightly detrimental to the flow of the story. However, this was an overall incredible novel with more than enough unique features to make it really stand out from the rest of the books in the series.
One of the best parts of any of Maberry’s novels are the complex and likeable characters featured within them. Over the years Maberry has produced some truly great and memorable characters for the Joe Ledger novels, and it was great to see so many of them return for Relentless, especially as most of them go through some major development. The most prominent of these is titular protagonist Joe Ledger, who has one of his most significant roles here in Relentless. Ledger has always been an extremely troubled and damaged protagonist, which has grown more and more apparent as the series progressed as he is forced to deal with additional traumas. However, this is the book where he truly snaps, as he is dealing with the brutal death of every member of his family. While Ledger starts the book mostly fine (by his already low standards), it doesn’t take him long to lose the plot. Fans of this series will understand Ledger’s mind is already broken up into three distinct personalities, the Cop, the Modern Man, and the Killer, which together form his mostly balanced psyche. However, the events of Rage have resulted in a fourth personality, the Darkness, which subverts Ledger’s mind and leads him to commit acts of terrible violence and destruction while massively freaking everyone out. The Darkness completely takes over Ledger, ensuring that you don’t see into his head for a good portion of the novel, which is an interesting change considering that Ledger is the only character in the series with a first-person perspective. While this really changes the tone of this novel, it perfectly highlights just how far-gone Ledger is. Even when he regains control of his mind and becomes a prominent point-of-view character again, the Darkness is still there, and he has to fight hard to control it. All this makes for quite a fantastic and deep read, and it was captivating to see the protagonist deal with the traumatic events of a previous novel in such a dramatic and destructive manner. Maberry really amps up how dangerous Ledger can be in this novel, and there are some truly disturbing and concerning scenes when the Darkness takes over. It will be really interesting to see how Ledger comes back from the events of this book in the future, and I am extremely curious to see what happens to the character next.
In addition to the outstanding central protagonist, Maberry fills up Relentless with great supporting characters, most of whom have been introduced in previous Joe Ledger novels. Maberry really likes a wide spread of characters throughout his novels, resulting in an interesting group of perspectives as the various supporting characters and minor inclusions experience the events of the narrative. It was great to see many long-running side characters return in Relentless, especially as they are severely impacted by Ledger’s walk on the dark side. While a couple of usually major characters only have a couple of scenes in this book, the usual DMS/RTI mainstays are all there. Ledger’s squad mates, Top and Bunny, have a particularly intriguing storyline in this novel, which sees them go undercover to infiltrate Kuga’s operation while being conflicted about Ledger’s actions. It was also great to see more of mysterious RTI leader, Mr Church, the guy who totally isn’t some sort of avenging angel or benevolent god (those are my two top guesses at this point). While Church doesn’t get as much focus as he has in previous books, he is still a major presence, and there some more hints at his past with one of the antagonists. There are also a couple of fun new unique characters introduced who Ledger meets up with as he pursues his quest for vengeance. Several of them are cool, and I look forward to seeing if they show up again.
Out of all the many supporting characters, there are two that I particularly want to focus on as they had some very strong arcs within this book. The first is Alexander Chismer, better known as Toys, the former villain who is seeking redemption and is now a close friend of Ledger’s partner Junie. Toys goes back into the field to find Ledger, even though they really dislike each other. Toys is a pretty smooth operator, and it was fun to see him go back to his criminal roots, even though it was for a good cause. When he eventually catches up to Ledger, their meeting doesn’t go amazingly well (someone gets shot), but they do end up having a rather fantastic and entertaining heart-to-heart. The comparison between their respective paths to redemption is rather deep and fascinating, and it was very intriguing to finally see these two characters interact in an extended way. The other character I absolutely must talk about is Ledger’s dog, Ghost, the bestest boy in all of fiction. Ghost has a pretty rough time in this novel, as he is Ledger’s only companion during his master’s dark spells and ends up getting into some very violent confrontations. Maberry is extremely good at writing canine characters, and most readers will find it next to impossible not to fall in love with this savage, sassy cuddle monster. Due to the many bad circumstances that Ledger and Ghost finds themselves in, I found myself feeling a lot of worry for Ghost, especially as Ledger seemed crazy enough to hurt him at times. The fact that I felt strongly anxious for a fictional dog should tell you all you need to know about Maberry’s ability to write likeable characters, and readers should be warned that they will be experiencing feels in this novel.
It wouldn’t be a Maberry book without some impressive and complex antagonists, and this novel is chock full of villains with an intriguing master plan. The main antagonists of Relentless are the same as Rage, with the fun combination of Kuga and Rafael Santoro. Both Kuga and Santoro are recurring Joe Ledger antagonists (Kuga was the main villain of Kill Switch under a different name, while Santoro was a significant antagonist in The King of Plagues). As a result, they have an amazing amount of history with Ledger and the RTI, which makes them quite dangerous foes. Both are a bit more unhinged in this novel, especially once it becomes clear that a deranged Ledger is on their tail, and it was great to see them slowly become a little more desperate. Despite this, they have a pretty intense and detailed plot to make a large amount of money through the sale of their advanced weapons, technology and enhanced mercenaries. Their master plan for destruction and manipulation is very clever and takes a while to fully become apparent to the protagonist and the reader. Maberry lays the groundwork for this plan perfectly throughout his narrative and the eventual reveal of what they are hoping for is pretty cool and leads to several amazing scenes that play off current events really well.
In addition to the antagonists that appeared in Rage, Relentless also features one of Maberry’s most mysterious and sinister villains. Going by the name of Mr Sunday in this book (which I assume is a fun little nod to Mr Church’s fake name), this antagonist is a very creepy and dangerous being who has had some impressive appearances before (Assassins Code, Predator One and Dogs of War for example). The moment he appeared in this book, I knew that I was going to be in for a good time, as this character is essentially the devil incarnate (there is a strong chance he is the devil). Maberry does an incredible job building him up once again in this novel, and he ends up terrifying his potential allies just as much as his enemies. This character’s appearance has some major implications for Ledger and Mr Church, and it is highly implied that his appearance is causing some of Ledger’s instability. While he is mostly just coasting off Kuga and Santoro’s plans in this book, he also has his own sinister plans which come into fruition perfectly. As a result, he is a pretty fantastic addition to the plot, and I loved the entertaining interludes that featured his elaborate sales presentations. It looks like Maberry has some big plans for this character in the future, and I am very excited to see what chaos he has in stall for the world next.
Aside from the main villains I mentioned above, Maberry also utilises some great supporting antagonists who act as assassins and henchmen. This includes the deranged Eve, who was introduced in Rage and who lost her partner and lover, Adam, to Ledger. This loss has driven her even more insane, and there are several crazy chapters shown from her perspective, and she represents the typical sexual degenerate antagonist that Maberry likes. There is also a new henchman character in Michael Augustus Stafford, a hired gun considered one of the best assassins in the world and is often referred to as the anti-Ledger due to his similar appearance to the protagonist. Stafford leads Kuga’s hunt for Ledger throughout Europe and America and is a dogged tail for much of the book. There are some very intense cat-and-mouse scenes occurring between the two as they attempt to get the upper hand on each other. I really appreciated the way in which the author took the time to building up these less prominent antagonists throughout the novel, and you get a great sense of their personalities and abilities. I would say that they don’t live up to their full potential at the end of the novel, but it was still fantastic to see their entire storyline unfold.
Another hallmark of a great Maberry book is some of cool technology featured in the story, especially as it results in some excellent and over-the-top fight scenes. The villains get some impressive and over-the-top toys in this novel, including biological enhancements, advanced body armour that has a lethal kick to it and massive armoured exoskeletons loaded with giant guns. Maberry has some fun building up the capability of these devices through several of the interludes, and they do not disappoint, causing all manner of chaos and destruction around the world. That ensures that when the protagonists encounter them they are in for a real fight, as it gives their enemies an edge against RTI agents who usually have the most advanced tech. It was really cool to see this technology in action, and Maberry dreams up some outstanding scenes around them. All the fight sequences featuring them in Relentless are ultra-impressive, and readers are in for some great scenes, especially as many of them involve the less destructive and sleeker RTI technology versus the purely destructive Kuga weapons. I really enjoyed seeing these advanced weapons in use, and it helps to give some of the action scenes a major boost.
Just like I have with every other Jonathan Maberry book I have enjoyed, I ended up grabbing the audiobook version of Relentless. I have a lot of love for the Maberry audiobooks, and in my opinion it is the best way to enjoy these cool novels. The main reason for this is the amazing recurring narrator, Ray Porter, who has lent his voice to the audiobook versions of nearly every single one of Maberry’s novels. Porter is one of my absolute favourite narrators, and if he is voicing something, I know I am going to love it. This narrator always manages to deftly drag the listener in and keep their complete attention throughout the entire production. He really dives into the various characters, ensuring every one of them has an appropriate voice, with cool accents and relevant speech patterns. He is also extremely good at portraying emotion, and he always goes out of his way to highlight a character’s feelings in their speech patterns, whether it be excitement, grief, anger, or something darker. This is particularly noticeable with protagonist Joe Ledger. I have noted before at how effortlessly Porter inhabits the role of this complex character, ensuring that the reader gets his full range of feelings, including his boundless rage and outrageous sense of humour (he really gets Ledger’s sarcasm). Porter does another amazing job in Relentless, and it was really cool to hear his take on the more unhinged Ledger, and he really helps to add an extra sense of menace and anger during the scenes where Ledger is out of control. Each of the voices used in this book are extremely good (I would critique the voice of one Australian character, but it’s a fairly minor role), and it was an absolute joy to once again listen to his narration. With a run time of just under 18 and a half hours, this is a rather long Joe Ledger novel, although I powered through it in less than a week due to how much fun I was having. This version of Relentless comes highly recommended, and it is already one of the best audiobooks I have listened to all year.
Well, that was a damn impressive novel. As you can see from my rather long and happy review above, I had an outstanding time reading Relentless by Jonathan Maberry, and I found it to be an incredible read. The Rogue Team International series continues to be one of the most thrilling series out there, and I loved the complex damaged characters and intense storyline this latest novel contained. Easily one of my favourite books of the year, Relentless gets a five-star rating from me and is highly recommended to anyone wanting guaranteed action, fun and comprehensive darkness.