Review: The Sixth Battle

The Sixth Battle

Barrett Tillman’s The Sixth Battle is an interesting book. The 1992 novel of a gigantic combined battle over South Africa can either be considered the last Cold War “big war thriller” or the first post-USSR one. Because of its timing, the plot has to be kind of, er, forced a little, but that’s a small issue.

When I started reading the book, my thoughts turned to Red Phoenix. The similarities are there in that both are big picture thrillers that need to have a certain type of structure (most notably a lot of viewpoint characters and a setup period) to get that wide view across to the reader. For me personally, the perils of this is that since I already know a lot of what the authors are trying to communicate to a less knowledgeable audience, I see more of the downsides to this approach than the upsides.

However, I can also see-and appreciate-how rare a book like this is. “Big war thrillers” with this level of detail and knowledge behind them are and were very hard to come by. The Sixth Battle goes for a distinct setup, thinks it through, and competently executes the action in an evenhanded way.

Taking my biases into account and trying to adjust for them, I still recommend this book. It does feel a little clunkier than the best “big war thrillers”, but it’s never unreadably so. And it offers an all-too-uncommon experience that’s rarely duplicated elsewhere.

Review: Hostage Zero

Hostage Zero

John Gilstrap’s second Jonathon Grave novel and a tale of kidnapping, intrigue, and action, Hostage Zero lives up to the first. It might be a tiny bit “worse” than No Mercy, but that’s probably just me being more familiar with the series now. So I lack the awe at finding a newer, good author. Though the book itself is excellent.

Gilstrap’s action isn’t “realistic” unless benchmarked against the most absolutely ridiculous alternatives (not that I have a problem with that), but it’s as solid as always. There’s the slower middle portion, but even that demonstrates another strength of its author-a great sense of buildup. Stuff is revealed at a just-right pace. Not too quick, and not too slow. Jon Land has been consistently good at buildup, and in these two books, Gilstrap is too.

And this book and its predecessor also succeed in, well, having the cake and eating it too, for lack of a better word. Jonathan Grave has a huge network of resources at his disposal, but they don’t feel like easy victory buttons. He has to get his hands dirty and challenges do appear in his path. I love finding series that are good that I didn’t previously know about, and so far this is one of them.

Review: Raider Brigade: Into A Time Warp

Raider Brigade: Into A Time Warp

With the premise of “1980s American armored brigade prepares for World War III, only to get timeshifted back to World War II”, I couldn’t not check out Daniel Gilbert’s Raider Brigade: Into A Time Warp when I saw it. While my reading experience is broad enough that this is strangely not new to me (the Kirov series timeshifted a modern brigade into the past twice), examining it was inevitable.

Unfortunately, this is rather lacking in execution, even compared to the Kirov series. The enthusiasm is there and the concept is still amazing, so I don’t want to sound too hard. But the prose is very rough and there’s as much time spent on the operations order given before the battles as there is on the (predictably one-sided) battles themselves. A too-large portion of the already short book is devoted to pictures and footnotes, giving this near-Richard Rohmer levels of “padding to substantive content”.

Even at the basics, this falls short. Descriptions are either too short or too long in that “I know what all the acronyms mean, and I’ll tell you in a footnote” way. The dialogue well, leaves something to be desired. And a lot of it is just well, incoherent. There’s no other way to put it. So, with a heavy heart, I’d say that this does not live up to its concept and is not recommended.

Review: The Suriname Job

The Suriname Job

Vince Milam’s The Suriname Job is the first book in the Case Lee series of thrillers. In a very crowded field, it only stands out in a few ways. The first is its very format. This is told in a first-person, “hardboiled” narrative style. It’s different than a lot of cheap thrillers, but I’m not sure it’s for the better.

The second is a bigger issue, and that’s that the action isn’t very good. It’s basically flat, which isn’t what you want to feel when you read a cheap thriller. The third is that the plot is a little too mundane, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself but drags it down even more when combined with the poor action. With these issues in mind, I’m not exactly eager to read the later books in the series.

Review: The Wildered Quest

Throne of Eldraine: The Wildered Quest

Kate Elliot’s The Wildered Quest is a Magic: The Gathering tie-in ebook that reflects a dramatically different game from the last two I’ve reviewed on this blog.

Since I last looked at Planeswalker, a lot has changed in the lore of Magic: The Gathering. The Urza-vs-Phyrexia conflict concluded at the beginning of the 2000s, and then the wheels sort of spun until Wizards of the Coast made a massive change with the Great Mending, an event that reduced planeswalkers from near-divine immortal superbeings to considerably more “normal” people with the ability to teleport between dimensions.

Maybe this is just nostalgia, but I feel like the Mending has turned the setting from something offbeat and distinct into something more generic. It’s gone from two mad scientists-turned immortal monsters fighting a millenia-long war to superhero-wizards fighting some bland dragon-thingy. One effect of the Mending event was to actually make planeswalkers more prominent in spite of depowering by taking away third-party planar travel. So it’s either planeswalkers or having things take place entirely on one plane. Or, in this case, have planeswalkers drop in on what’s otherwise a one-dimension experience.

The Wildered Quest, taking place on the fairy-tale plane of Eldraine, has a lot going for it. It’s written by a successful author in her own right. It’s not too long. The prose is decent. The story of the Kenrith twins is interesting enough.

Yet it still feels like a merely adequate, phoned-in tie in. Of course, a lot of this might be my own biases-I tend to not be that into fantasy- but it still felt kind of just-good-enough. And that’s a type of book I’ve read a lot of. The glass-half-empty view is that it could have been better. The glass-half-full view is that MTG novels have had a sometimes-deserved reputation for being terrible and thus it could have been worse.

Review: Fire Ice

Fire Ice

The novel Fire Ice holds a great deal of importance to me. It was, without a doubt, the first real “cheap thriller” a young me read. This makes it hard to truly judge its literary quality. After all, young me saw the name Clive Cussler on the cover and didn’t know at the time about how the “co-author” system worked, so I assumed it was all him (which had the thankful effect of leading me to earlier Cussler books that were indeed all his own).

With its big locales, action, and high-stakes plot with a Russian oligarch and a supervillain scheme, this has all the ingredients a Cussler thriller and a cheap thriller in general needs. Certainly, for one’s first cheap thriller, you could do a whole lot worse than that. While my reading habits are such that another cheap thriller probably would have taken its place, I still owe Fire Ice a lot for getting me into them.

Review: Assault Into Libya

Assault Into Libya

With this post, I will have reviewed every book in the Cody’s Army series on Fuldapocalypse. How does the second, Assault into Libya, hold up compared to the others? Well, it does what a men’s adventure novel is supposed to. Like some of the other entries, it’s a 51% book in a 51% series. Beyond the basics, it only really stands out in being a little more willing than some when it comes to killing off supporting characters.

For the series as a whole, it’s ideal for showing off the most single representative example of what 1980s men’s adventure was like. Teams of secret agents pursue terrorists through headline-ripped locations (this particular book has Libya, the crown jewel then). There’s lots of at least moderately effective action. And yet this book has the same issue that all Cody’s Army entries save for the truly engaging Hellfire in Haiti share-they’re mostly interchangeable and there’s no reason to pick them ahead of better examples in the same genre.

Review: Field of Glory

Field of Glory

With Field of Glory, the Kirov series shifts into another subplot involving-you guessed it-time travelers changing the outcome of famous battles. In this case it’s a French and British time traveler manipulating history with their time-keys as part of a rivalry, with this book being about changing the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo. This entire “Keyholders Saga” was set up early in the series as a possible direction after the initial arc, shelved as an alternate World War II was focused on, and then revived later on as a way to show off wargames in other time periods.

This book is even more blatant than usual about being little but a lets play/after action report. While anyone crazy enough to make it through the Kirov series wouldn’t be surprised by any of this, this is intended as a spinoff. And for what it is, it’s not too bad.

At first it may be confusing and incomprehensible to have a story shift from the World Wars to the distant past, but once the gimmick is understood, it becomes better. Especially since a problem of some of the other Kirovs is that they linger too long on one certain war/campaign. A one-off book doesn’t have that issue.

Review: No Mercy

No Mercy

John Gilstrap’s debut in the Jonathan Grave series, No Mercy, is very much a “grocery store book”. In fact, I first learned of this series after seeing a later book by him in-a grocery store. That being said, not all grocery store books are bad.

This is, in fact, one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. Sure, the plot and characters are nothing out of the ordinary for thriller novels, but the execution of Jonathan Grave and his adventure is fantastic. From the opening rescue sequence, I was impressed by the quality of the action. It’s not perfect. The middle drags just a bit. But it’s fantastic nonetheless.

The action is so good that, even though I saw some of my usual quibbles, I brushed them aside effortlessly. From the opening to some unconventional-yet-effective scenes in the middle to a gigantic battle ending, this was a tour de force. No Mercy was the kind of opening act that deserved to bring about a large book series.

Review: Termination Orders

Termination Orders

Leo Maloney’s Termination Orders begins the Dan Morgan series of thrillers. The plot is basically cheap thriller boilerplate, as an action hero faces off against a super-conspiracy. Of course, cheap thrillers succeed and fail based on execution, not concept.

In that sense, the book works. Its action is competent and the pacing done fairly well, although there are a lot of flashbacks in weird places. The exception to the generic yet decent action is one set-piece involving lions that made me smile.

The conclusion I drew is that this book manages to go juuuuust above the middle of the very crowded pack. It’s not the most distinct or best cheap thriller. But it’s done well enough that I wouldn’t call it a mere “51%” book.