Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Reviews: The Dragon Factory

The Dragon Factory
by Jonathan Maberry
I hadn't read anything by Maberry since his vampire trilogy a while back. I liked it even though I felt it was a bit stretched out. So when I was checking my home library for something to read during my ever shrinking lunch breaks I decided to give another Maberry book a try. I am very happy that I did. Let's get a couple of things out of the way first. This book is second in a series but as with many such entries, The Dragon Factory more or less stands alone. There were only a few instances when I thought that I should have read the first book first. Maberry sketches out many of the important story points so that you're not completely in the dark while at the same time leaving past events vague enough so that you'll go back and read the first book-- which is what I'm doing now. So don't be afraid to read The Dragon Factory if you're into the genre. At just under 500 pages this book is not short by any means but neither is it a chore to read. It's fun to read. Things zip right along. You won't want to put this book down once you've gotten into it. The plot is more important than most of the characters, but I wouldn't call the characters flat. Maberry has done a tremendous amount of research into such areas as biology, genetics, diseases, homeland security, intelligence agencies and the military, history and martial arts. And it shows. It also probably helps that Maberry is a martial arts expert, black belt, and former bodyguard and bouncer. The characters may not be super deep but they feel real. The other thing I appreciated about this book, especially after having just finished some Stephen Hunter works, is that the author doesn't beat you over the head with his politics. After reading this work of fiction I have no idea of Maberry's political leanings. And I liked that. So what's the book about? Hmm. I don't want to say too much because I've been accused recently of giving away spoilers. Of course some people who say that think that plot description of any kind is a spoiler. I disagree with that. Still,with this book in particular it's essential not to reveal very much. So I will attempt to do that. Imagine 24 mixed with some Michael Crichton stirred with Homeland blended with some Jim Butcher and F. Paul Wilson topped off with some Contagion with just a little Stephen King and Ian Rankin added for taste.

We know that after 9-11 everything changed. There was a shift away from civil liberties and the rule of law towards safety and pragmatism. One agency which was created as part of this upheaval was the Department of Military Sciences (DMS). The DMS, unlike every other agency or grouping (FBI, DEA, DoJ, CIA, Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, etc..) is top top secret. Very few people even know of its existence. Headed by a taciturn deadpan man known only as Mr. Church, the DMS handles threats other people either can't fix or don't even know about. One of the top agents (and recent recruit) in the DMS is Captain Joe Ledger, a veteran and former Baltimore cop with rage issues. Joe is visiting his former girlfriend's grave when he gets an urgent message from Mr. Church. While the President recovers from surgery the Vice-President has ordered the rest of the national security apparatus to turn against the DMS. DMS agents are being attacked and arrested all over the nation. Ledger will have to do his best to stay free (and hopefully not kill anyone) while Church finds out who's behind the Vice-President's attack on the DMS. Maberry introduces us to two competing and related sets of evil scientists who have their own malign plans for the DMS and for the world. Some of their plans have already been put into action. Others are proceeding on schedule but can't be fully actualized until the DMS is taken down. Both groups are evil but one is exponentially worse than the other. Ledger and his cool kicka$$ girlfriend, Englishwoman Major Grace Courtland, will have to ascend or is it descend to new levels of ruthlessness to survive and defeat these bad guys. If you can handle or are interested in the idea of conspiracy theories, mysteries wrapped in riddles, espionage, evil that survives decades and possible worldwide catastrophes then you just might enjoy this story. Although a few of the events and ideas in The Dragon Factory are way out of left field, the majority of them are extrapolations from reality. People really have done nasty things with genetic and other scientific research. Maberry works the mystery element in this story so skillfully that even when he finally reveals the identity of the big bad, there's still a chance you didn't see it coming. Joe opens the book trapped in a room, badly wounded and almost out of ammunition while something (actually a whole bunch of somethings) tries to beat the door down. The story then jumps back and forth between the past and present as well as Joe's first person POV and the author's third person POV of other characters. Joe is a hero, but he's not a flawless one. And Mr. Church remains suitably mysterious throughout the tale. His only seeming concession to human frailties or vice is a constant desire for cookies. One set of evil villains had a bit too much sneering for my taste but I guess that is par for the course after you've graduated from Evil Overlord Academy. This is a fun techno-thriller stuffed full of action and mystery.
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