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Rage Jonathan Maberry Main

"Rage" Book Review

Written by Shane D. Keene

Published by St. Martin's Press

Rage Jonathan Maberry Large

Written by Jonathan Maberry
2019, 451 pages, Fiction
Released on November 5, 2019

Review:

Jonathan Maberry won’t be a new name to many of you, probably not most of you. Author of the Pine Deep series, the straight up trilogy of traditional horror novels that made his bones and started him down the path toward success, he’s made himself pretty much synonymous with franchise genre fiction since 2006 and his name is steadily on the tips of tongues everywhere in the horror reading community. He made his start there and cemented a lot of lifelong fans for himself in the genre. In fact, it’s still what he’s most well-known for to this day. But it isn’t his only specialty, and possibly not even the one he’s best at. Since 2009, this prolific author has been continuously cranking out what has become a major cash cow for him and his publishers and it’s paid off in spades. I’m talking of course about his Joe Ledger novels, beginning with the opening book, Patient Zero the best entry of the bunch so far, and most recently culminating in Dogs of War and now migrating into the new “Rogue Team International” in the form of Rage.

The first thing of note with the Ledger novels as they pertain to me is I started my affair with this guy lost in the throes of a mad, ecstatic passion; one that lasted through the first two novels and that I have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to rekindle ever since. The second thing to note is that while I do read and enjoy the books, I disconnect with nearly the entire rest of the horror community when I say they are not horror or horror-adjacent as they are often billed. If someone is selling them to you as such, they’re misleading you. Maberry himself more accurately and honestly calls them weird science/action thrillers. These are science fiction military action tales, rife with themes of espionage, high tech, and biological weapons; all topics that have played heavy in previous Ledger works and that once again rear their heads in Rage. And I have to say that, for this reader, those heads are becoming increasingly uglier even at closing time, particularly the concept of bio-weapons that turn people into ravening killers.

And while that last bit seems very negative on the surface, let me say for the sake of clarity that, like all of these books, I did not hate it. With varying degrees of excitement or apathy, I’ve enjoyed every one to some degree. Some immensely, some minisculely. They’re all action-packed, with lifelike characters and witty albeit sometimes clichéd dialogue that helps to move the story along at a breakneck pace already given impetus by the bursts of frequent, tumultuous violence and mayhem. Maberry has a knack for motion and he wields his pen with the skill and alacrity of a grizzled veteran, knowing full well what makes his readers tick and how to make them clock just a little faster with each turn of the page. It’s a technique he’s used to great effect throughout his career and these stories, mastering the art of pacing to a degree seldom seen in the hands of a genre author.

But in the end, pacing isn’t enough to keep me fully engaged. There needs to be a story that opens my eyes, that rivets me and lets me know something new and different is going to happen, but it just doesn’t in this case. Being billed as a new Ledger series, a promise is implied that there will be some originality unique to this branch of the novels, and there are some minor surprises, but for the most part, my visceral response was largely lackluster. There are aspects of it that are new. The team has been moved out of control of the US President, a tactic that feels sort of like social commentary on certain aspects of our current political climate. I mean, who wants to have a team of powerful, deadly mercenaries under the leadership of such a lunatic? The group has been rebranded “Rogue Team International” and Joe’s unit is given the apt moniker, “Havoc,” but other than that, it’s pretty much the same old ball of wax. Same players with a few exceptions, the same sorts of scenarios, and the same espionage thriller feel as most of the other books, and not one I recommend you try to take on standalone. I’ve seen it said that it is a self-contained story, but I wouldn’t take that to the bank. In addition to the usual band of good guys, it also revisits past villains who you’re going to need some backstory for. You get enough of it to get by, but it will feel incomplete if you haven’t read the entries in the previous series.

Now, to once again semi-contradict my own words, you do get one refreshing blast of freshness in the form of the premise behind the story’s events. It involves an unknown person or persons who wants to see the two Koreas either united or completely destroyed and everything that happens is in an effort to further that agenda in Maberry’s exceptional brutal fashion. And in the long run that’s always what wins me over when it comes to Maberry and these tales. He hauls you into and through the bloody thick of things and leaves you feeling like you’ve just been keelhauled, dragged through gravel, and savaged to a pulp, but largely satisfied with the story and its outcome. The author’s been at this business for a long long time now and he knows what triggers his readers, what buttons to push, what strings to pull. And in Rage he’s once again managed to take a story that would fail in the hands of a lesser author and make it into a story that, while not without its issues, is still an oddly engaging page-turner from cover to cover.

If you’re a fan of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger franchise and you’re looking for more of the same, you will not be disappointed, as that’s exactly what’s on offer here, but if you’re looking to discover it for the first time, you will definitely want to start with Patient Zero and read forward to this point.

Grades:

Overall: Threeandahalfstars Rage Jonathan Maberry Small
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About The Author
Shane Staff
Staff Writer
Shane Douglas Keene is a reviewer, columnist, and poet living in Portland, Oregon. He spends his spare time drinking scotch and/or beer, playing guitar, and thinking of ways to scare small children and puppies. He pays meticulous attention to beard maintenance, mostly because it freaks people out, and he writes about dark fiction and poetry in various places, including his blog at Shotgun Logic.
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