Review: Tier One

Tier One

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson’s Tier One is the first installment in a series that, like a surprisingly high number of Fuldapocalypse review entries, I learned about via negative comments. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by such books before, so I decided to give this tale of a SEAL turned super secret super commando a try. Of course, I’ve also often found them to be just as bad as they said.

This is not a good book, but it was a strangely enjoyable one. The action was passable but not the best. The main character comes across as a ‘difficult’, unlikable person. And the plot-well, the plot seemed like it was trying to check each and every box of what a stereotypical modern thriller would contain. This was enough to make it swing all the way around from “cliche and bland” to “weirdly interesting”. Thus Tier One is the kind of work I cannot recommend but did not mind reading.

Review: My Next Life as a Villainess Vol 2

My Next Life as a Villainess: Volume 2

The second volume of My Next Life as a Villainess deals with Katarina now going to the actual academy setting of the game and demonstrating her biggest character trait of absolute obliviousness towards romantic attraction (the fandom joke is that black holes are less dense than her). One of the biggest and best buildups in the first volume was foreshadowing the game’s protagonist, Maria Campbell. The second doesn’t disappoint when she actually appears. Katarina is clueless to the fact that her being actually nice has already butterflied almost all of the original game’s plot away, and equally clueless to how Maria is now attracted to her.

The plot is worse when it tries to go for more genuine danger and drama, simply because it conflicts with the tone of the rest of the story. But even that’s not too bad. While I can understand why that would be included, it’d probably have been more preferable to just focus entirely on its heroine worrying about nonexistent “death flags”.

It also has a good conclusion as Katarina survives the “game” and hears Maria’s confession, which she of course doesn’t get. When I read that this was the original planned ending, it didn’t surprise me at all. Of course, it was successful enough to continue, but just as how The Sum of All Fears serves as a good stopping point for Jack Ryan, so does this for the series (boy, never thought I’d be directly comparing those two).

The structural issues I mentioned in the past volume are still there. But after seeing so much of setting munchkinism, and coming from an online community where this kind of thing is a stereotype, I love the concept of someone who tries to munchkin the setting and it doesn’t work out (well, in this case it does, but not in the way Katarina thought or intended). While I probably won’t read too far beyond the original end, I still enjoyed this series as a break from tanks exploding.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Vol 1

My Next Life As a Villainess: Volume 1

I felt it was time to check out of one of those “anime antics” settings that Spacebattles has a bizarre fascination with. In this case, it was Saturo Yamaguchi’s light novel series, My Next Life As A Villainess: All Routes Lead To Doom (these are notorious for their extremely long titles). Frequently abbreviated as Hamefura, this is the story of someone who is reincarnated as a video game character.

More specifically, it’s the story of a schoolgirl who stayed up too late playing her dating sims, which led to her death in a bicycle/car accident as she tried to hurry to compensate the next day. This led to her being reborn as Katarina Claes, the antagonist/rival girl in one of them set in a fantasy academy setting. Upon recovering her memories of her past life, and knowing that Katarina is fated to have a bad end in the game, the heroine tries to get a better fate.

This initial installment isn’t bad. I can see the “it’s a good concept even if the execution is ‘iffy’ ” that made appealing to fanfic writers. The prose is pretty well, matter of fact. I don’t know how much of that is due to translation issues and how much is due to the novel being intended to be smooth and easy to read (you could say it was meant as light literature). But it’s not a deal breaker, and neither are the “anime antics” surrounding Katarina and the inevitable boys. I had fun with it and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual fare here.

Review: Deadly Intent

Deadly Intent

The second book in Brent Towns’ Team Reaper series, Deadly Intent is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in some time. The action here is almost literally non-stop as the titular force battles against a seemingly never-ending stream of enemies in a battle that spans multiple continents.

The constant action, team-based protagonists, vast geographic setting, and more out-there elements of the plot (to put it mildly) reminded me of one of the Stony Man Gold Eagles. The difference though is that this is done better than the Stony Man/Able Team/Phoenix Force entries I’ve read. The action and narrative flows a lot more smoothly, and the characters feel more developed (in a small sense, but still).

There are times when a book, even a cheap thriller, benefits from slowing down and having lots of buildup. But there are other times when one, like this, benefits from just welding the gas pedal to the floor. This is quite the experience and I highly recommend it.

Review: Long Road To Mercy

Long Road To Mercy

In another one of those “big name authors that are nonetheless novel to me”, I turned my attention to David Baldacci. Long Road to Mercy is the first in his Atlee Pine series of thrillers starring the titular FBI agent. How is it?

The first thing that caught my eye was how dense and well, overdescriptive, for lack of a better word, the writing style is. It doesn’t feel like it’s the best for a thriller. The second was talking about how built-up and muscular the heroine was. This made me think “this is a justification for her being able to take on bigger men hand to hand”. I was right (although the action scenes are not gratuitous).

As the book progressed, it went from the smaller and more personal tale promised in the opening scene to a very, very rote cheap thriller plot. It even had a climax featuring the most stale “shocking” item in the genre, a nuclear bomb. About the only thing distinctive I can say is that instead of the opponents being TERRORISTS! they were instead part of a CONSPIRACY! Wow!

Of course, cheap thrillers don’t succeed or fail based on concept. They do so with their execution. And the way this is pulled off is-well, something. The words that came into my mind were “decaf thriller”. It’s like it ended up, either accidentally or deliberately, being the kind of book that checks all the thriller boxes, but without too much adrenaline.

So I can understand its appeal to a certain kind of reader, and thus its author’s success. But that nature, mixed with its huge amounts of descriptions that don’t even feel like they were intended as padding, isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Especially since it feels like the wrong kind of thriller for its writing style.

Review: Scorpion Strike

Scorpion Strike

The tenth Jonathan Grave book, I picked Scorpion Strike out of the pile because I thought its concept from the blurb-a Die Hard-esque story of the main character’s vacation interrupted by nefarious actors- was the most distinct and potentially entertaining. The bad news was that turned out not to be the case. The good news was that it’s still a good Gilstrap thriller.

After the initial (and, as always, well-done) setup, the supporting cast of the series returns in force. From there it becomes just another Jonathan Grave novel with all the same issues. The mixture of “too serious” and “too over the top”. The elements beginning to repeat too many times. The too-timid hewing to genre conventions (it reached the point where I groaned twice at how rote the MacGuffins were).

And yet it has the good parts as well. The action is still well handled, and here Gilstrap actually dares to kill off a heroic supporting character. If this had been my first Jonathan Grave novel, I think I’d have thought more highly of it, and it’s still a better-than-average cheap thriller.

Review: Recruit

Iron Legion: Recruit

David Ryker and Daniel Morgan’s Recruit is a military science fiction novel of hugely missed potential. While not an “exact” spacesuit commando book in that its main character controls too high-powered a mech (which is still part of the problem), it’s still one in spirit, especially given the opportunity it has. Which really works against it.

In execution, the prose, while satisfactory, isn’t the best. And it has the usual implausibilities and inaccuracies, including one that jumped out at me of the main character having his emotion crisis and self-doubt during, instead of the more realistic and dramatic after a big battle. But those are forgivable.

What isn’t so much is the opportunity it had, using its in-universe premise, of having the potential to make a story centered around someone who was at the very, very bottom. The main character is initially slated to go into the highest-casualty branch of the Space Military. The most expendable and least glamorous, something legitimately interesting. But nope, instead the protagonist is just so good that he becomes a spacesuit commando instead. Which is a shame. It’s still a passable cheap thriller, but it could have been so much more.

Review: Breakout

Breakout

It’s kind of hard to take a look at individual entries in the Kirov series once its formula gets going, but if I had to choose one, I’d say Breakout. At the very least, it’s emblematic of the series. The Allies in this timeline have launched an amphibious invasion France from the south instead of from the north like they did historically. My fear when I first encountered the Kirov series was that it just would be stuff like that, or even more minor ones like “oh, well there were two Tiger battalions at ______ instead of the historical one?”

Instead, we get, in this book alone, timeshifted nuclear warheads, nuclear warheads developed with future technology by Volkov, airships, more airships, a timeshifted modern Bundeswehr brigade that inexplicably fights for the Axis because the author wanted to wargame it, and of course the adventures of the ship itself and its crew. There are reasons why, in spite of the pacing on display here, that I really enjoy this series. And Breakout has all of them.

Review: End Game

End Game

After five hits that ranged from “good” to “excellent”, the Jonathan Grave series finally gets a miss in End Game. Which is a shame, for it’s still an uncovered gem of a series. Now, five solid books is an excellent run, and even this on its own isn’t that bad. But it’s still weaker than what had come before.

Basically, the formula is there stronger than ever, which means that all the issues with it are also there and stronger than ever. What makes things far worse is a mundane plot and dull antagonists who just don’t seem fitting. That its super-protagonist gets involved at all feels off in a way that none of the previous other plots did. Those felt like challenges befitting someone of Grave’s abilities. Here, it feels weirdly like a 1990-2000s technothriller where the villains have to be propped up in a crude way. And the whole point of the small-unit action hero thriller is that it shouldn’t have to rely on such gimmicks.

So this is a disappointment. A readable disappointment, but still a definite disappointment. For authors who’ve proved their worth, the expectations often feel higher. And this didn’t meet them.

Review: Target Response

Target Response

Somehow my mind said “you know what you really need to read next? Another ‘William W. Johnstone’s’ book.” And thus I decided to try and roll the boulder up the hill yet again with Target Response. I mean, maybe it could be a serviceable cheap thriller? Maybe one of the anonymous, carefully-hidden authors behind what’s become a house name worked well this time?

Or not. But really, what did I expect?

There’s two barely connected plots that only stay together by virtue of sharing a common villain and “theme” of the Dog Team assassins being targeted for death by said villains. The first is a paint-by-numbers set piece in Nigeria that takes up the opening act. This at least doesn’t have very far to sink. But the second is another Dog Team member back home having to fight off a literal family of assassins, and it’s something that a better thriller writer could have done just so much better. The potential is lost and it falls flat, like the writing.

The writing style is extremely sparse and flat. It’s meant as a basic reading thriller, but comes across as just rote and artificial-which makes sense given what the series is. And yet I couldn’t help but think that in some ways this was actually, at least in context, better than many of the “rival” later Gold Eagles. The weapon descriptions aren’t quite as blocky and overstuffed. And while the plot is just as erratic and wrapped-up too quickly, there’s less outright obvious padding.

Now, there are so many more deserving books by both big and small name authors that I’d recommend over these literary clunkers. They still share the same basic and deep flaws. And as I said in the last Dog Team book review, going from “distinctively, memorably bad” to “forgettably mediocre” in many ways works against it. So this is kind of like saying one old-design, tiny cheap subcompact car is “better” than another old, cheap subcompact car. But I still need to give a bit of credit where it’s due.