Book: Bits & Pieces

"Bits & Pieces"

Benny Imura’s journey through the Rot & Ruin is well known, but who were the others navigating the ravaged, zombie-ridden landscape? Jonathan Maberry returns to fill the gaps in what we know about First Night, surviving the plague, and the land of Rot & Ruin.

Comprising brand-new short stories from Nix’s journal as well as previously published short stories, this collection shows a side of the Rot & Ruin series readers have never seen before.

I didn’t know I missed the Rot & Ruin until I cracked this book open. And I’m never getting tired of saying Rot & Ruin is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Ever. Even when the succeeding books didn’t turn out to be as heart-wrenching as the first one, the series continued to tug at the heart strings. As the characters grew up in the Rot & Ruin series, as they lost their innocence, so did we, the readers. Bits & Pieces allowed for the innocence to come back.

And Bits & Pieces broke another piece of my heart… In a good way.

Guided by journal entries from Nix, this collection of short stories present new facets to the events of the Rot & Ruin series. We meet other characters who had their own adventures alongside the ones Benny and his friends were having. And, and this is the best part for me, we get some back stories on some of the characters we met in the series.

The book does a great job at coloring outside the lines of the series without feeling like it’s just reliving the glory days. The stories are new, as are the insights. And the best part? The characters we revisit, in different eras of their lives, never feel off. They help the character grow–and the situations they are placed in add to our understanding of who they came to be.

Jonathan Maberry built a really solid house with the Rot & Ruin saga. Bits & Pieces is just the fixings that adds to the beauty of the house–emphasizing and accentuating, without changing what the house looks like.

My favorite in the collection has to be the story of Rags. Or should I say the stories of Rags? There’s two. One told a a year after the events of First Night, and another one unfolded during the events of the first book. They very different stories with one single message.

Hope doesn’t die.

And I’m now holding on to hope that Jonathan Maberry would continue revisiting the world he created with Rot & Ruin. Because I feel like there are more stories from this universe that still wants to be told.

Book: Assassin’s Code

"Assassin's Code"

When Joe Ledger and Echo Team rescue a group of American college kids held hostage in Iran, the Iranian government asks them to help find six nuclear bombs planted in the Mideast oil fields. These stolen WMDs will lead Joe and Echo Team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass murder, betrayal, and a brotherhood of genetically engineered killers with a thirst for blood. Accompanied by the beautiful assassin called Violin, Joe follows a series of clues to find the Book of Shadows, which contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter his entire worldview. They say the truth will set you free… Not this time. The secrets of the assassin’s code could set the world ablaze.

I picked up Assassin’s Code because it was the fourth book off the Joe Ledger series of books. Which is a good thing. Because I don’t think I would’ve picked this book up based on the above synopsis.

Then again, out of the four Joe Ledger books I’ve read, I think this one is the weakest off the bunch. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not up to par with his other books. Especially not with the Rot & Ruin series. After four adventures, I think I’m starting to feel some fatigue for the shenanigans that Joe Ledger and his Echo Team keeps getting into.

Or maybe it’s just this book.

Unlike in other Joe Ledger books, author Jonathan Maberry’s pacing for this story seems off. Maybe because there are way too many things going on, too many characters need to process things, too many plot threads are let loose in the wind. The result? Chaos.

Ultimately, when you read the book, that seems to be the intent. But for a reader looking for a break from real life? Chaos needs to be reigned in. Doled out in small doses. Chaos needs a little order, to be easier to take it in. And that’s what I found lacking in Assassin’s Code. Order.

I think it became harder to read when the book reached its second part. When the interludes began? I didn’t need the backgrounder. And, spoiler alert, the interludes are spelt out in the end. So there really wasn’t a point in writing the interludes.

And don’t get me started on the fake chapter enders. Where characters would discover something important–but it wouldn’t be revealed to the reader. It was frustrating. More than pushing me to move on to the next chapter, I kept having to put down the book to remind myself that it would be worth it in the end.

But was it?

I don’t know. On the one hand, I didn’t find the book bad. As I already mentioned before. It’s not bad. It’s just not as good. And when you’ve already shown readers how good you can be… Well, let’s just say I would be a little more wary when I pick up the next book off the Joe Ledger series.

Book: Fire & Ash

"Fire & Ash"

Benny Imura and his friends have found the jet and Sanctuary–but neither is what they expected. Instead of a refuge, Sanctuary is a hospice, and the soldiers who flew the plane seem to be little more than bureaucrats who have given up hope for humanity’s future.

With Chong hovering between life and death, clinging to his humanity by a thread, Benny makes a startling discovery: A scientist may have discovered a cure for the zombie plague. Desperate to save Chong, Benny and his friends mount a search-and-rescue mission. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt: The reapers are after the cure too, and they want to use it to wipe mankind off the face of the earth.

Before we go any further, I need you to understand one thing: I cannot say anything bad about this series. No, I’m not biased. I really just can’t say anything bad about Rot & Ruin nor its succeeding sequels.

The bad thing about this is that my hopes were impossibly high when Fire & Ash was announced. I tried to keep the expectations down, because we all know how hard it is to conclude anything. But it was impossible. I had impossibly high hopes for Fire & Ash. Impossibly high.

And the book met my expectations. I don’t know about exceeding expectations, but meeting my really high hopes was enough for me.

Right. We’re taking a break from Filipino Fridays this week because I really need to get this out. Fire & Ash, and the Rot & Ruin series, is now officially my choice for definitive zombie fiction. Tied with World War Z. It has the right amount of horror, of suspense, of action, of comedy, of romance, and most importantly of drama. Because, let’s be honest, while you can have a good book without drama, it won’t be great unless you feel for the characters. It won’t be definitive unless the character’s plight become real for you.

When your characters are in a fictional future dealing with zombies, and you can still feel the plight? Hello, you impressive author. Here I am with the highest award I can give to anyone: my undying devotion to anything you will publish. While I’m still a big Christopher Golden fan, I think Jonathan Maberry is my master of horror now.

Now, before I go on and write about my reaction to the book, I just want to say one more thing first. I love how the Rot & Ruin series never wastes a single book on filler. (Yes, Michael Grant’s Gone series, I am throwing shade at you right now.) We can say that Dust & Decay, the third book, would be a good candidate for being the filler in this series, but it’s not. If it is, then it’s the best filler book out there. Because while nothing much advances in terms of plot, the book completely makes up for it in how the characters develop.

But this post is not about Dust & Decay. It’s about Fire & Ash. The last book. The finale.

This is where the world, as we’ve come to know it, burns.

Right from the first page, answers are given. What happened to Chong after the last book ended? What is Sanctuary? What is done inside Sanctuary? Well, that one is answered more subtly, but once you get to the point where it’s explain more explicitly, you realize that the answer was already given very early on.

The biggest question though, of what is going on in the reclamation of the world from the dead? That one is explored more carefully. And without forgetting that villains have been introduced in the last book. Villains that need to be taken care of.

If there’s suspension of disbelief that’s to be made, it’s in how teenagers are able to disarm and beat grown men who are just as trained as they are in the arts of war. But after four books, are we really going to start questioning this now?

Fire & Ash is plotted well. Never did I question where the book was going, and never did I become frustrated at how long it was taking certain characters to go where they need to go. Characters were talking. Actions were being taken.

There were no obvious over-drawing of events just so the series could be extended. There were no repetitions. And characters, all of them flawed, acted in tune to the characteristics they were introduced with. They grew, yes. But they did not become different people. They didn’t suddenly develop amorality or bipolar disorders.

And although the book introduced a new point-of-view, it didn’t detract from the overall experience. In fact, it added suspense and amped up the fear you felt for characters we were already introduced to.

Let’s just say that all the characters we’ve come to know were all serviced well. And that there was a reason for everything.

And I can’t believe I’ve missed the nod to The Walking Dead until now. That was some quick-draw.

I’m all out of words now, so let’s see what other people have already said about the finale book of the Rot & Ruin series:
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Doubleshot Reviews

Now, while you read those, I’m going to see if I can find some free time in my schedule to reread the whole series again.

Book: Dead of Night

"Dead of Night"

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in hte grave. But all drugs have unforeseen side effects. Before he can be buried, the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang…but a bite.

I was going to say something about this book in relation to a series of books that author Jonathan Maberry has written. And then I realized how much a spoiler that was going to be. So I’m going to hold that thought back and give you my assessment of this book without relation to any other stories.

The book was nice. Better as it came closer to its end, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t good before then. Well, it was a tad slow-paced. Much slower paced compared to Maberry’s other books. But, in this case, it helped in establishing character.

Weird thing though–

The events described in this book all happened within a day. It felt much longer. The book, after all, only kicked into high gear near the end.

But I still liked it.

My gripe against Michael Grant’s Gone books, with its series of red shirts who die as soon as they’re introduced, gets turned in its head in this book. We get red shirts, and they too die way too quickly; but while they don’t provide traction to the development of the characters we’re following, they don’t detract from them either. In fact, their little stories help in coloring this world in better.

Later on, this even serves as a character upgrade for one of the main protagonists.

My other gripe against the Gone series, with its some times too separate story lines is how, in this book, the stories are still tied together at its core. There are no separate concerns that one set of characters are involved in that doesn’t, in one way or another, connect to the concerns of the other characters.

If there’s anything to complain about in this book, it’s that we don’t get as many updates on a couple of peripheral characters who play a bigger part near the end.

Oh, and the missing time between a certain character’s disappearance to his reappearance later on in the book. This touches on a whopper of a spoiler though, so I don’t know how I’m going to discuss this…

Basically, a character leaves. Starts moving. And yet ends up in a place that another character reaches in a shorter time. While partly walking there. I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I thought the ribbon was a bit too perfectly tied on that bow.

I realize that that statement makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve already read the book. Which you should.

Don’t believe me? Then check out what other people have to say too!
Fantasy Book Critic
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Enough is Enough

And I just realized how I started with I’m not going to compare this to other books and proceeded to do that anyway. Oops.

Book: The King of Plagues

"The King of Plagues"

The horror is unlike anything he has ever seen. Driven by grief and rage, Joe Ledger rejoins the Department of Military Sciences and within hours is attacked by a hit-team of assassins. Sent on a suicide mission into a viral hot zone during an Ebola outbreak, Joe and his team are being pushed over the edge.

To get to the bottom of this horror, Joe and the DMS must tear down the veils of deception surrounding them. What they uncover is something far more horrifying than nature or legend could have imagined. Millions will die unless Joe Ledger meets this powerful new enemy on their own terms, on their own ground. In this war, you fight terror with terror.

This is the best Joe Ledger book I’ve read so far, but I don’t think I would be reacting this way had I not read Patient Zero.

Oh, sure. I wasn’t very fond of Patient Zero, but it wasn’t so much because I didn’t like the book, as much as it was the fact that I thought Rot & Ruin was written better. And because they were by the same writer–well, I couldn’t help but compare.

Now, why do I say that The King of Plagues is best because I’ve already read Patient Zero? This time, it’s not because I’m comparing the two. Patient Zero is essential reading for you to truly enjoy reading The King of Plagues, because it sets up a couple of characters that play a big part in the events of this book.

If you’ve already read Patient Zero, you might already know who I’m talking about it. If you haven’t–well, I wouldn’t want to spoil your reading pleasure.

That said, I must say that Jonathan Maberry truly is a master of drama. And this is great because it sets him apart from other horror/action-thriller authors. Maberry knows how to make you care about characters, and he knows which buttons to press to make readers feel every hurt. Most importantly, he knows when to give readers a happy ending. Well, a happy enough ending.

But what I like about him best is the fact that the villains are human too. Well, have humanity.

Okay, maybe not all of the villains.

Basically, Maberry knows that morally ambiguous characters can exist in both sides of the spectrum: in the side of good, and in the side of evil. It helps ground his fictional world more into reality when he has characters who truly captures what it means to be human.

Even though some of them tend to be the more-than-human variety.

And putting down The King of Plagues, I think I’m a bigger Maberry fan than I was before.

Of course, to keep things in perspective, let’s see what other people have to say about the book:
The Fringe Magazine
SF Signal
Fantasy Book Critic

Book: The Dragon Factory

"The Dragon Factory"

The beautiful but twisted Jakoby Twins are creating transgenic monsters and genetically-enhanced mercenaries for sale to the highest bidder. In addition, their father is using cutting-edge science to complete the Nazi Master Race Programme. Joe Ledger has to elude the National Security Agency who are gunning for him, fight his way past rogue Spetsnaz teams and stop these madmen before the Extinction Clock runs out.

And when the bloodbath claims one of his own, Joe Ledger declares total war on those people who would burn down the world in order to reshape it in their own dark image.

Okay. So, number one, that synopsis has a spoiler. But since I did not read the synopsis prior to starting the book, I wasn’t spoiled. Unfortunately, by the time things actually start moving in the story, you can already see who is going to bite the bullet. Which wasn’t fun.

To be completely honest, I did not enjoy reading The Dragon Factory. It was too long, too many things were happening, and when the action actually starts, you only have a few pages left to wrap things up. Considering that I was keeping my expectations low after being slightly disappointed by Patient Zero, I must say that not enjoying this book saddens me.

And I go back to the Rot & Ruin series. I don’t understand how the author who wrote those books, full of emotions and anguish and drama readers can relate to–could also be responsible for the Joe Ledger books that are too technical.

I mean, sure, the Joe Ledger books (the two I’ve read so far, anyway) have the right amount of drama in it. But because there’s way too much about the fighting skills of our titular character, and because there’s way too many characters who each have their own agenda, it drowns out the actual plot movements and the character developments.

The Dragon Factory feels like a short story that has encyclopedic explanations for everything that happens. Which makes it not such a light read, which makes it hard to find it fun.

I’m sure there are people who enjoyed reading The Dragon Factory. And I’m just as sure that I’m not one of them. But like with everything else in life, don’t judge something based off one person’s opinions. Let’s see what other people have said about the book:
Fantasy Book Critic
Blogcritics Books
The Novel Bookworm

Book: Patient Zero

"Patient Zero"

Police officer Joe Ledger, martial arts expert, ex-army, self-confessed brutal warrior, is scared. The man he just killed is the same man he killed a week ago. The top secret government agency The Department of Military Sciences are also cared, they have word of a terrorist plot straight from a nightmare — a bid to spread a plague that kills its victims and turns them into zombies. Time is running out and Joe has shown he has the abilities they need to lead one of their field teams.

And so the race is on to find out who is responsible, destroy the terrorist cell and stop the coming apocalypse. But somehow the terrorists are always one step ahead and hell beckons…

I don’t love it. Not as much as I do Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin series anyway. Patient Zero reads like a thriller infused with video game story-telling and a plot that wouldn’t feel out of place in 24. But as a zombie novel, it isn’t special.

Then again, it might be because I’m expecting something akin to Rot & Ruin and Patient Zero is definitely not that. Though, if I’m right, they occupy the same universe–just not the same dynamics.

What drew me to Rot & Ruin and the succeeding sequels was that it focused on the humanity of the characters–even the zombies. Patient Zero doesn’t do that. Reading the book, I felt like I was watching a walk-through of a video game.

Joe Ledger as a character is too much of a perfect alpha male. And while there is a clear attempt on the side of the author to make him flawed, more human, the fact remains that Joe Ledger is too perfect a zombie-killing machine. He wouldn’t be out of place in a Resident Evil game.

His support system, led by Rudy Sanchez, feels a little too clean-cut for me as well. As does obvious love interest Grace Courtland. The only characters that actually drew intrigued me were Mr. Church, whoever he is, and Top Simms.

Story-wise though, Patient Zero is solid. If a little cookie-cutter. I’m hoping the next book is more of a page turner, but if it’s not–well, I still enjoyed this book; I might enjoy the next one too.

The good thing is, I won’t be coming in with high expectations for The Dragon Factory.

What does other people have to say about the book though? Let’s see.
J.C. Hutchins
Love of Books