BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A terrorist attack on a hospital in London sees Joe Ledger back on the job, fighting once more against a shadowy cabal with intentions of world domination.
PROS: Joe Ledger is a (mostly) great character, fast and heavy action, tighter script than previous novel.
CONS: Rudy freaking Sanchez, somewhat laughable villains, Joe’s grief.
BOTTOM LINE: An improvement over The Dragon Factory, delivering everything a fan might expect from a Joe Ledger Novel.
So let me first introduce Jonathan Maberry’s series of Joe Ledger novels. Think Resident Evil without the horrible dialogue. Think the hit Fox drama 24 with Bond villains. Think Monster Hunter International but less supernatural and more scientific. I really love the Joe Ledger Novels (for the most part) and unless you hate America you will too. The first novel in the series, Patient Zero, is one of my all time favorite zombie stories. The sequel, The Dragon Factory, didn’t quite live up to the quality of the first but it was still a solid thriller. Now here is my review for The King of Plagues.
So Joe Ledger is drifting around Europe recovering from a personal tragedy when a terrorist attack takes out the oldest hospital in London. Thousands perish and just like that Joe finds himself out of retirement and back into the counter-terrorism business. This time Joe and the Department of Military Sciences face an enemy with unimaginably vast reach and lofty ambitions. The Seven Kings of the New World Trust are well funded, well prepared, and ready to bring chaos to the world in the name of profit. Can Echo Team stop the Seven Kings before a weaponized version of the Ten Plagues of Egypt are unleashed?
Where to begin? Well this is a Joe Ledger novel so perhaps best to start with the big man himself. Joe Ledger is a great character (mostly). I love reading from Joe’s first person perspective which is also interspersed throughout the book with the third person perspectives of ancillary characters. Joe is a character of three parts as he will often describe them, the dwindling idealistic modern man, the calculating cop, and the cold blooded warrior. Supreme alpha male for sure and wise mouth to boot. I wouldn’t say that Joe is lovable and sometimes his sarcasm can be grating but he is definitely compelling.
My big complaint about Joe? This is going to come as a real shocker but it comes in the form of a love interest that crops up almost immediately in the first book and ends “tragically” in the second. Don’t get me wrong. Romantic sub-plots can be very useful when it comes to developing characters but far too often they just feel forced. Joe falls in love in Patient Zero, loses his woman in The Dragon Factory and is hollow shell of a man by The King of Plagues. This is a like a four month period. Far too forced, far too rushed. Maberry should have stretched out the relationship over a few books if he actually wanted readers to care for Joe’s loss. As is you just sorta want to tell Joe to get over himself and get back in the game.
As far as the supporting cast goes the characters are hit and miss. Doctor Rudy Sanchez annoys me to no end spouting the same line of dialogue countless times, “Dios Mio!” The addition of Doctor Circe O’Tree on the other hand proved a wise move. At first I feared that Circe was a romantic replacement for the fallen Grace Courtland but thankfully she manages to keep her pants on and her wits about her. I was never a fan of Grace to begin with and Circe seems to be a much more accessible character.
The King of Plagues also sees the return of Sebastian Gault and his ever faithful aide, Toys. Gault is loathsome as ever but ironically Toys takes on a sympathetic air. Seeing the human side to Toys is good because the villains of The King of Plagues are almost as comical as those of The Dragon Factory. At some level I really like the villains of the Joe Ledger novels. I like secret societies and all that, but on another level the villains tread far too close to melodrama. These baddies just don’t strike me as realistic. They’re mostly bad for the sake of being bad, twirling their mustaches as trains race to run over damsels bound to the tracks. As dark and believable as the rest of the novel is at times I would like to see that same atmosphere infused into the puppet masters.
The plot of The King of Plagues is much tighter than that of The Dragon Factory and this is a blessing. In The Dragon Factory there was far too much going on at one time, far too many ideas cobbled together. Maberry uses this tighter focus and relentless pacing to deliver an unstoppable action thriller fit for the big screen. The action is top notch and brutal, the stakes are high and the good guys don’t always come out on top. Unfortunately for all the build up the finale feels hasty and anti-climactic.
The King of Plagues is a good continuation of the Joe Ledger Novels and a step far above its predecessor, The Dragon Factory. Flaws aside, The King of Plagues is a nail biting thriller and comes recommended.