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REVIEW: The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

REVIEW SUMMARY: Employing frighteningly realistic conspiracy theory scenarios and some creative misdirection, Maberry has Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences team battling secret organizations and old enemies, protecting the world again.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Reeling from the tragedy at the end of Ledger #2 (small spoilers below), Joe is pulled back into the DMS after the Royal London Hospital is destroyed in a terrorist attack. The group The Seven Kings is responsible, and they hit with more attacks, paralleling the seven plagues of Egypt, and go after Ledger and the DMS.

PROS: Great conspiracy thinking with LARGE events; misdirection; interesting, complex criminals who don’t like each other; a great dog and destruction of one of Maberry’s favorite writing places!
CONS: One plot line that was beyond me to connect, perhaps a lead-in for Joe #4?
BOTTOM LINE: As good and maybe better than Patient Zero, the first Joe Ledger novel, The King of Plagues brings a more than possible terrorist conspiracy to scary life.

As a citizen of the world, I naively hope that there are not organizations like the Seven Kings in The King of Plagues, bent on chaos and terror with the money, power and intention to commit acts of mass murder. As a reader, I hope that Maberry keeps listening to the voices in his head, creating opponents worthy of Ledger. Ledger and the DMS have battled zombies created by germs, in turn created by a group reaching for global domination; and genetically engineered men and beasts, created by yet another megalomaniacal faction (that time father and kids).

How many super criminal organizations can there be?

At the end of The Dragon Factory, the second Joe Ledger novel, Ledger was broken, physically, mentally and emotionally, and quit the DMS.

At the end of Patient Zero, the first Joe Ledger novel, Sebastian Gault and his associate Toys just escaped the destruction of their germ factory / facility, with Toys saving Gault’s worthless life, in spite of Gault ignoring Toys’ advice, getting burned physically and romantically.

Ledger, Gault and Toys are back, along with the rest of the DMS, in this third installment (at least two more are planned) with Maberry creating larger catastrophes and Freemason-type secret organizations who run our world behind the curtain. Ledger loses a bit of the introspection that made him more human than machine in the first two novels, but Maberry goes for a more realistic set of foes for the DMS…and what Ledger loses in self-examination, the criminals more than make up for it.

The opening scene has Ledger in London, getting drafted back into the DMS by his boss Church to investigate the Tower-esque bombing of the Royal London Hospital. Maberry describes this event through Ledger’s eyes with language that makes me think Maberry was in New York at the time of the disaster. Lines like:

“9/11 might be over a decade ago, but even the average guy on the street knew about the dangers of breathing that dust. It was more than debris…the fire and the pressure from the collapsing buildings had vaporized people.”

The bombing, and the subsequent attempt to release Ebola, and an attack on a government facility are all the work of an organization called The Seven Kings. We later find out that the evil gang is all there: the Kings of Plagues, War, Famine, Fear, Gold, Lies and Thieves…everyone is here except the King of Beers (probably not evil enough to be included). The Kings are well aware of DMS (launching attacks on Ledger and the DMS) and DMS is aware of the Seven Kings, through an anonymous tipster who is somehow able to contact Church on his private line (I believe that is called a clue) with tips on the Kings activities.

Maberry has fun with this one, and it shows in the read. He absolutely destroys one if the sites where in real life he writes (and no doubt the descriptions of the victims match the folks Maberry sees there). And he presents us with a “think tank” made of thriller writers, designed to create the worst possible terrorist scenarios for the Government to think up reactions or prevention scenarios (and names names of his thriller writer buddies). It’s hard to call a novel this bloody “playful”, but Maberry pulls it off.

The characters are fun as well; the old characters are back, like Top, Bunny and Rudy, but new characters Santoro and Circe are colorful and complicated. Santoro is so complexly demented, he even freaks out fellow criminal Toys, no slouch in the depravity department himself. And Circe O’Tree is another beautiful tough lady, with a complicated past, to fill the shoes of Grace Courtland from the second book.

He also employs misdirection, which the King of Lies talks about as their foundation. They set up a rival organization called the Bonesmen, but when the read is over, you are not sure if the Bonesmen exist or were created by the Kings for their own purposes. A potential setup for the next story, but also raises the enjoyment of this one.

I didn’t follow the storyline of Nicodemus, and how or where he fit into the picture. Perhaps he is a bridge to the fourth Joe Ledger story (which is set up nicely at the end of this one) which looks to be titled The Others and reportedly involves some type of vampire. The first Ledger, Patient Zero, had zombies that weren’t really zombies, but Ledger and the uniqueness of the DMS were the stars of that novel. The second Ledger, The Dragon Factory, featured genetic monsters engineered by Nazis, a theme I personally have overloaded on through reading stacks of WWII non-fiction and fiction.

I’d like to see Maberry stay with the big ideas of this third novel, where there are secret organizations directing and manipulating the world in ruthless fashion, with only Joe and the DMS to thwart them.

About Larry Ketchersid (55 Articles)
Author of two novels (Dusk Before the Dawn, Software by the Kilo) and one volume of non-fiction stories. CEO of a security software and services company; co-owner of JoSara MeDia, publisher of iPad apps, print and eBooks. Runner, traveler, Sharks fan, Rockets fan, Packers shareholder.

6 Comments on REVIEW: The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

  1. Larry…thanks for that thoughtful and comprehensive review.

    Surprised you didn’t dig Nicodemus –he’s become quite the favorite character so among readers. Though, as you suspect, he will play a part in book 4.  His role in KING OF PLAGUES, however, is both significant and necessary.  Some folks catch it, some don’t, but the book works either way.

    As for book 4, it’s undergone a title change to ASSASSIN’S CODE, and it deals with the two separate but related secret rogue orders (one within Islam and one within the Catholic church).  Joe has to prevent one group from nuking all of the Mideast oil fields while clashing with genetically-engineered vampire assassins.  That later part….I managed to square the science on it.  Should be fun.

    So, again…thanks for the shout out for KING OF PLAGUES, which is my personal favorite (so far) of the series.

  2. Nick Sharps // April 8, 2011 at 6:36 am //

    I really want to read the review but I  don’t want to spoil The Dragon Factory which I am halfway through! I already bought The King of Plagues because I’ve been hearing all this hype about it and after reading Patient Zero I definitely believe the good things critics have been saying. A lot of people don’t like The Dragon Factory as much because the villains are “cartoony.” I thought the same thing at first, the whole thing about eating a dodo bird struck me as more silly than evil but once I found out who Cyrus really was it changed everything. I actually took a minute to do some research on the real person (I knew about him but not a lot) and I had to stop reading for awhile because I was so creeped out. 

  3. @Jonathan, congrats on yet another excellent Ledger book.

    I thought Nicodemus was a cool character, it just didn’t seem like his story line fit with the rest of The King of Plagues. No spoilers here or I’ll get roasted.

    And I was sure you would get the science right for book 4, like you did for book 1, which I thought was incorrectly classified as a zombie book.

    Patient Zero is still my favorite. The opening scenes with Ledger in his “tryout” for DMS are outstanding, as are the hand-to-hand combat scenes. But The King of Plagues runs a close second.

    For everyone else, to get the short story that is in between The Dragon Factory and The King of Plagues, go to this website and sign up. The story will be emailed to you shortly afterward.

  4. Nick Sharps // April 8, 2011 at 10:27 am //

    Thanks for the link to the short story!

  5. Midas68 // April 9, 2011 at 2:45 am //

    I fell for the buzz on the Patient Zero,  That Ledger sure knows how to deal with serious situations. 

    I knew it as bad when a guy like him gets the Electric Boogaloo from the Super Duper Private Special Underground  No Holds Barred  Badder then Ole King Kong and the CIA combined agency now in control of all things.  and he decides to take the Leave it or Die offer without making a decision and talk to his Gay Doctor Friend about what happened, this after he was warned to do so meant  Death would follow for all,  and so this nimcompoop cowboy even mentions to his sensitive Friend, I just hope I didn’t get you axe Murdered by telling you this,  But I really had to have a share moment  regardless of your life. and ole Doctor gets mad and starts yelling in the car “no one Better be Listening, Or Ill get my Lawyer” blah Blah,  


    Course 20 minutes later he is tied up with a gun to his head.


    And Joe goes all huffin and Puffin to blow the house down and save the guy.


    Its ok cause everyones got issues and gay doctor likes to discuss.  so they are get to have private discuss pow wows and feel better with the end of the world commin.


    This was typical of everything in the book,  which did move fast.  but when it pilled up too high, It moved even faster out of my hands and into the dump.


    So if your saying this might even be better then the above. I think I’ll just reread something.

    If your easily amused then spend the dough.  If not, maybe I have saved someone from a infectious bite.

  6. @Midas68 – if I understand your comments, you are saying that a particular scene in the book appeared too coincidental or too obvious? And that caused you to stop reading? Hard for me to identify with that statement; I’ve stopped reading books because the writing was terrible, or the storyline turned me off, or the science was ridiculous (in the case of science fiction). And too many coincidences or too much obviousness could fall under terrible writing. But I do not share your opinion on this series. It was certainly obvious that Joe Ledger and his friends were going to get into trouble somehow, but what kind of trouble, who caused it and how they got out of it are what make the stories work for me.

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