I’ve long been a fan of thriller novels, especially when combined with horror. Authors such as Michael Crichton, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, or James Rollins do an amazing job of bridging the gap between the fantastic and the realistic. Well, I have to add a new author onto the list: Jonathan Maberry.
I actually came across Maberry by accident, while I was wandering through the horror section of Borders. Patient Zero caught my eye, and as I leafed through it I just had to have it. I also picked up the sequel, The Dragon Factory. Even cooler, as I started reading them, Wes emailed me to let me know Maberry had contacted the Blood Sprayer about doing a piece on his new novel. Obviously, I was pretty stoked, so this article will cover several of Maberry’s works at once.
I’m going to start off with his most recent novel, Rot & Ruin. What was most interesting about it, is that it is Maberry’s first novel directed towards young adults. Despite it being aimed at a younger audience, the novel was entertaining and enjoyable, even for a veteran horror fan like myself. The story is a coming of age tale about a young man, Benny, who is living in a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies. Benny cannot keep a job, and when he is faced with having his rations cut, he begins to learn the family trade, zombie hunting, from his older half-brother, Tom. What I really loved about the novel is that it is the only zombie work I have ever read that humanizes the zombies, and turns them from objects of disgust and hatred, to objects of sorrow and pity. They are not monsters, but rather they were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and they are not at fault for what happened. It was such a unique and refreshing take on the genre, and I give Maberry a lot of credit for breathing new life into the undead. Maberry is also able to capture the uncertainty that comes with begin 15 years old, and the book covers everything from friendships, family loyalty, first love, and truly learning the difference between right and wrong, and the courage it takes to choose.
Now I don’t want you all to think that it is a cheesy, sappy, pseudo-horror novel, far from it actually. The book is filled with guns and explosions, bounty hunters, zombie stampedes, murder, and Tom’s weapon of choice is a freaking katana, so there some awesome scenes with swordplay. It’s all pretty badass, and I loved it. It also brings to light the monstrous traits of humanity, and how they can threaten society even after the apocalypse. It was reminiscent of The Stand by Stephen King, and it brings to light the importance of choice and free will in our society. What else I liked about the novel is that Rot & Ruin doesn’t take the cliché idea of redemption and apply it to every character. Lessons are learned, hope, love, pain and loss are all woven throughout the story, but there isn’t a perfect happy ending, and I respect that immensely. This one is worth reading, but obviously I do recommend it to younger readers. For the adults who want something a bit grittier Maberry has something you too.
Patient Zero is awesome, hands down. It is the first novel in the Joe Ledger series, and is followed by The Dragon Factory. Patient Zero is about a Baltimore cop named Joe Ledger, whois recruited by a shadow organization in the government called the Department of Military Science. It begins with Ledger leading a raid on a terrorist cell, only to be later picked up by some government spooks and brought to a warehouse, where he comes face to face with a terrorist that he personally killed in the raid. The thing is, the terrorist has come back to life. Ledger learns that terrorists have engineered a bio-weapon that not only kills its victims, but also re-animates them into zombies. The terrorists plan to bring the world to an end, and only Ledger and his team of DMS agents can stop them.
The novel is brilliantly researched and uses science and horror in a way that is terrifying and believable. I learned more about prions and spongiform encephalopathy in this book than I did back in college biology. Not only is the science detailed, but the combat tactics and fight scenes are accurate as well. Maberry is an 8th degree black belt in Jujustsu, and has been inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and his experiences lend a truth to his writing. On top of the well-researched plot background, Ledger’s character is flawed and broken, and it makes the story that much more powerful. There is no knight in shining armor in the novel, and it is much more realistic (and frightening) to see what the “hero” is capable of doing when pressed, and what goes on in his mind.
Patient Zero is filled with twists and double crosses, firefights and zombie battles. Maberry doesn’t hold back anything, and there are some scenes in the novel that are nothing short of brutal. One particular scene involving a warehouse full of children that are being experimented on comes to mind. The story moves as fast as an action movie, which is a good thing since Sony has optioned the film rights.
The Dragon Factory is the second novel in the series, and I liked it more than Patient Zero for numerous reasons. First off, everything in The Dragon Factory is bigger, more complex, and totally over the top. The novel is like James Bond meets Jurassic Park. The backdrop of the novel is complex genetic engineering; custom made animals, animal human hybrids, and weaponized versions of terrible genetic diseases designed to wipe out the majority of the worlds population. Thrown into this mix are Nazi scientists, assassins, and super soldiers. Not to mention that the plot was much more intricate and it never calmed down for a page. Instead of one group of bad guys, there are two intertwined yet competing factions, each with their own army of monsters and mad men. There is a surprise at the end that was the clincher and pushed this one over Patient Zero in my opinion.
The Dragon Factory is able to kick right into gear because there is no need to introduce all the characters and build up the back-story as in Patient Zero, and Maberry uses this benefit to his full advantage. The novel starts off with Joe Ledger stuck in a room, the door is barred, he is bleeding and injured, his attackers are coming and he has three bullets and a knife. Then it flashes back to the preceding events. Again, Maberry does not rely solely on action and fighting to grab readers and advance the story. The first scene in the flashback is of Ledger visiting a grave in a cemetery, tying back into his past that we learn of in Patient Zero, and the writing is emotional and powerful. Maberry knows his stuff, and he deserves to be recognized as one of the next best thriller authors.
I cannot wait for the third novel to drop next year, it is called The King of Plagues. I still have one more Maberry book to read though, Wanted: Undead or Alive. The book is a work of non-fiction, and it explores classic monsters of literature and film, as well as the roots of the good versus evil trope that is omnipresent in our culture. The book has commentary from Stan Lee, John Carpenter, and Peter Straub, as well as artwork and illustrations. What’s even cooler is that Maberry personally mailed me an autographed copy of it. So yeah, he’s definitely a cool guy.
So for any fans of the sci-fi horror genre, fans of fast paced thriller novels, young horror fans, or even fans of non-fiction, Maberry has you all covered. Do yourself a favor and get to the store and pick up one of his books. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award-winning Pine Deep novel trilogy, and I will be tracking that down as soon as I finish a few more of the novels I have to review. He also writes for Marvel comics, and was involved with the Marvel Zombies Returns series alongside David Wellington, and currently writes the Black Panther series. I am definitely looking forward to any film project that may come from these stories, because to be frank, they were made for the big screen.