I’ve read this author’s work in the past and really, really enjoyed them – I was a huge fan of Faithless. That said, I was avoiding this one because it sounded like it was too far out of my wheelhouse. And after starting it I soon realized I was likely not the ideal target audience… but it didn’t matter because I was loving it. I think the ideal target audience would be people who watch movies like Bourne Identity, Bond, and military/secret agent type storylines.
This starts out with the main POV, John, and his “visitors”. John lived through an extraordinarily traumatic experience as a special services soldier in Afghanistan and it’s left him with severe PTSD. The kind of PTSD where he sees his dead friends around him every day. He has self-inflicted rules regarding his visitors, too. “Rule Three” is not to talk out loud to his visitors … it’s a half-successful way of trying to maintain his grip on his sanity and reality. John gets himself deeply into debt and he owes some scary people money. He decides to go to an old friend, someone from his old squad who also survived the event and asked for a job. He’s given a job that will take about six months … but it would send him back to Afghanistan. Not having a whole lot of choice in the matter, he decides to take the job and heads off on his mission.
We also have another side POV who comes in around 10%, and is in a very strange predicament. She was a nurse in the middle east and has found herself strapped to a wooden structure, nude, and in the dark. Not a great start for a woman in a hostile area… inwardly I was like “don’t, don’t, don’t” and he didn’t. It wasn’t what it appeared to be. She’s been captured by someone known as Afridi and he wants her to harness her powers. As a child, she lived through a fire that burned down her family’s home and killed everyone except for her. She was found unscathed, unburned, in a pile of ashes. She had shut that part of herself off a long time ago and considered it a mystery she was never going to solve – she definitely didn’t believe in magic and thinks this guy is off his rocker.
This was a dark as fuck book. People are tortured to death, burned to death, captured, shot, and taken to their breaking points. Magic in this alternate Earth is brought about only through pain, physical or mental. The place where Mackenzie finds herself is a house of horrors intended to break everyone inside. Characters betray each other, you’re never sure who the characters should and shouldn’t trust which all comes together to create this fucked up feeling of injustice and rage. That may make the book sound miserable, but it was paired with a main character who’s cynical, witty, and sarcastic which kind of dampens what could have been “too much” grimness to be entertaining.
The pacing was just fucking excellent. I don’t usually give a perfect score in pacing, but there’s literally nothing I would have changed. I got to know the main character well before we switched POV. The secondary POV was fascinating which made me interested in knowing more every time she came up – which was spaced in 10% chunks. We saw her at 10%, 20%, 30%, etc… and the two POV’s don’t collide until 75% – which would usually irritate me, but this time it didn’t.
The writing was fucking solid. I think my only complaint would be the banter was a little too buoyant and flippant given the severity of the situation the two POV’s were in when they finally met. But, meh. It was fun, I have to admit that. It made me smile even though I doubt very much so I would behave like that in their situation. If you don’t like the word fuck in fantasy books… just pass on this one.
Maybe I would have read something like this sooner if I focused more on superhero stories and sci-fi – but with the ghosts and what not this felt more like a fantasy, and it’s not a kind of fantasy I’ve read before. I really like military-fantasy, but I’ve always read things like Django Wexler’s series, The Thousand Names. So far I hadn’t picked up anything based on modern soldiers. Neat shit. Highly recommended.
TLDR: Modern military fantasy. Main POV is an ex-secret service living with PTSD. secondary pov is captured in middle east, and mystery surrounds her plotline. Dark but funny at times. Fast-paced craziness. ghosts. superpowers.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 13/15
- World-Building: 12/15
- Writing: 14/15
- Pacing: 15/15
- Originality: 14/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 9.5/10
Final Score: 89.5/100 or 5/5 stars on Goodreads