Tag Archives: post-apocalyptic

Review: “Wanted” by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones

Title: Wanted
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: J.G. Jones & Dick Giordano (Flashback sequences in issue #6)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Image Comics, 2007

Every once in a while you run across a book like Wanted. Well written, excellent art, genius premise, a smart story and interesting characters….and a stated goal of offending every sensibility you have. In that, Wanted certainly succeeds. Am I recommending you go read it? That depends on who you are and how easy you are to offend. This one’s not for everyone. It’s been billed “Watchmen for super-villains,” if that tells you anything.

Wesley Gibson is the ultimate loser. His girlfriend is cheating on him with his supposed-best friend, he has a dead-end job with a boss who chews him out regularly, he’s a hypochondriac, and to top it all off he seems to be a clone of Eminem. But all that changes when a woman named Fox upends his life. It seems that Wesley’s father was the Killer, one of a cabal of super-villains who have secretly run the world since 1986. Now the Killer is dead, and Wesley stands to inherit not only his worldly possessions but also his place in The Fraternity. Before you know it, Wesley is a whole new person with a whole new set of…well, maybe not friends. Associates might be a better word. Tensions are rising within the Fraternity. After years of peacefully keeping the world subjugated, certain members are getting tired of living behind the scenes. Civil War seems eminent, and there’s no better time to be the Killer….

Imagine suddenly having the ability to do whatever you wanted, with absolutely no consequences. Blow away a restaurant full of people? Police have no suspects. Make your “friend” who’s cheating with your girlfriend disappear? Doesn’t even make the news. Whatever your fancy, it will be covered up. How? Because the super-villains are ruling the world. Do you remember the Heroes? No, of course you don’t. They’ve been relegated to cheesy TV shows and comic books. They never really existed. Or at least, that’s the story now. Turns out that in 1986 all the super-villains – ALL of them – teamed up and took down the mighty Heroes, rewriting reality so that they never even existed. A certain pair of caped crusaders now think they just played those characters on TV, and the world’s greatest hero spends his days in a wheelchair staring out the window at a world that has forgotten him, wondering just what he’s trying to remember. The gang’s all here, given a gritty update and with their names changed to protect the author from lawsuits. Some of them are recognizable, others less so. Remember Bizarro? The failed clone of Superman that turns everything opposite? He’s been translated into [REDACTED]*, a “Down’s Syndrome copy of the world’s greatest hero.” Clayface? Try [REDACTED]*, a creature made up from the feces of the world’s six-hundred and sixty-six most evil beings that have somehow become sentient. There’s more in the same vein. Fox is clearly Catwoman stuck in Halle Berry’s body. (No, I have no idea whether that’s a coincidence. The comic was released first, but I don’t know how far back the casting for Catwoman was announced.) Mister Rictus is a darker take on the Joker, a former priest who died for a few moments only to find that there’s nothing waiting on the other side. Now? Now he does whatever he wants, eats what(or who)ever he wants, fornicates with whatever he wants. Currently? He wants to take America from his old rival Professor Solomon Seltzer….

The content here is over the top offensive. There’s the obvious profanity, sexual content and gore, but there’s also adapting DC’s Bizarro to have Down’s Syndrome (and then making fun of him), or putting not-Superman in a wheelchair….just like the guy that used to play him in the movies. At the same time, the premise is genius. The characters are all incredibly well executed. The plot is a purposeful inversion of Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” theme. This is an incredible piece of work….except for how offensive it is. So, should you read it? I’ll let you decide.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity throughout. Explicit sexual content, including references to rape and bestiality. Strong, gory violence. Not for children!

*I keep this blog PG, even when the works I’m reviewing definitely aren’t. Redacted names contain profanity.

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. VII: The Troll Witch And Others” by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, & Richard Corben

Title: The Troll Witch And Others
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Additional Artists: P. Craig Russell & Richard Corben
Series: Hellboy
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2007

That figures. I stated in my last Hellboy review that I couldn’t wait for the next volume to figure out where the story was going, and so of course the next collection was an anthology. Oh well, I like those best anyways….While he still handles most of the art, this time out, Mignola collaborates with a couple guest artists for special occasion stories.

We open in Malaysia, 1958 as Hellboy investigates a local creature known as The Penanggalan, a demon born when an old priestess accidentally kicked her own head off. (“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” “I did not say it was true, only that I believe it.”) A short, predictable, and delightfully strange tale. We then move on to Alaska, 1961 as Hellboy investigates claims of a monster haunting the grave of Hercules in The Hydra And The Lion. Mignola is the first to admit that this one doesn’t make a lot of sense, but in Hellboy’s world that really doesn’t matter too much. The Troll Witch takes us to Norway, 1963 as Hellboy investigates a series of horrific murders. This has the distinction of being one of the only stories where Hellboy doesn’t get to punch something, which leads to a bit of a subversion of your expectations. The Vampire Of Prague is set in 1982 and is Mignola’s first time writing for P. Craig Russell. This is some good stuff. I especially enjoyed the part where the vampire is chasing his own severed head down the street…. Dr. Carp’s Experiment takes us to New York, 1991 as Hellboy and the BPRD investigate a newly-discovered secret chamber in a notorious haunted house. This one was good, I always love a good time travel story. The Ghoul is set in London, 1992, and is one of the strangest Hellboy tales I’ve seen. It features our favorite demonic hero beating the crap out of a ghoul who speaks solely in creepy poetry, and a puppet theatre production of Hamlet. Makoma is another weird one, this time a collaboration with Richard Corben. Mignola draws the framing story set in 1993, while Corben draws the legend being narrated. I’m not entirely sure how to understand this one, but it seems to be about Hellboy in a past life. Sort of a “Wheel of Time” thing where everything repeats throughout time. If so, it sheds some light on Hellboy’s eventual battle with the Ogdru Jahad….

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Mild sexual content, and some non-sexual nudity. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

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Review: “Windswept” by Adam Rakunas

Title: Windswept
Author: Adam Rakunas
Series: Windswept #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Angry Robot, 2015

In the distant future, everything runs on molasses, rendering sugar cane the lifeblood of human civilization. Corporate interests control the starways, staffed by an indentured workforce, while the Union takes every opportunity to convince said workforce to breach their contracts and jump ship. Out at the edge of settled space, Union recruiter Padma Mehta is particularly eager to add new Breaches to her headcount—thirty-three more recruits and she’ll get a bonus that will allow her to buy her favorite rum refinery and retire. Of course, it’s never that easy. Santee is a backwater, barely kept afloat by the supply of molasses sent up the elevator, so when Padma catches wind of forty potential Breaches she jumps at the opportunity…right out of the frying pan and into the fire. Now she’s dodging corporate hit squads, running from the police, and wading through sewage in an attempt to save the planet from a crop-killing plague…and the corporate response that would doom every soul on Santee to a fiery death.

Windswept is definitely a roller coaster of a novel, with a breakneck pace that refuses to slow down and let you think. This serves the novel well, especially as it helps gloss over the odd plot hole or uncharacteristically foolish action a given character might take in service to the plot. (Notably, a character picks up a fallen enemy’s gun, removes the magazine and pockets it, then throws the gun itself away. Why? Because the upcoming fight scene wouldn’t be as interesting if she were armed, but that magazine is going to be essential to solving a problem in the near future…The character does at least have the grace to question why she discarded the pistol, chalking it up to sleep deprivation clouding her judgement. There’s also a jarring moment where a character announces that she’s got to be at work in fifteen minutes, then a page later reflects on the fact that she’s going to be able to kick back and relax the rest of the night.) There’s not a lot of such gloss needed, but then it may have worked and I missed some examples. On the whole, though, the book was a very fun thrill ride through a future that looks like no other I’ve ever seen. A worthy debut, and I shall watch for future works from Mr. Rakunas.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, prevalent but not gratuitous. Strong violence. Moderately explicit sexual content.

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Review: “Hellboy Vol. VI: Strange Places” by Mike Mignola

Title: Strange Places
Writer & Artist: Mike Mignola
Series: Hellboy
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2006

“Don’t mess with me, lady. I’ve been drinking with skeletons.”

Seriously, how many characters do you know who could deliver that line in all seriousness? Pretty much just Hellboy, which goes quite a ways towards explaining his appeal. The entire series is so….over the top, ridiculous, ambitious….not really sure of the best word to sum it up, but you have to admit it’s pretty great. This time around in The Third Wish, Hellboy is pitted against the Bog Roosh, an undersea witch who wishes to save the world….by ending Hellboy once and for all. Sure, Hellboy has rejected his birthright as Anung Un Rama, the Right Hand Of Doom and devoted his life to saving the world, but so long as he exists someone could use the power of his hand to loose the Ogdru Jahad and burn the world. The Bog Roosh would end this threat once and for all. Then, in The Island Hellboy washes up on a forsaken island and is given a lesson in the origins of the world and all things that culminates in his death. Kind of. Maybe. Guess we’ll have to wait for the next book to see how that works out.

I won’t pretend that I understood everything that happened here, but I don’t think you’re meant to. Mignola is giving you an inside look at the creation of his world, true, but what is left out is as relevant as what is shown. We’ll see where the path Hellboy is set upon leads, I suppose. The book is filled with scattered moments of Hellboy being delightfully himself, and that is most definitely worth the rest of what is undoubtedly one of the darker entries in this series so far.

Content: Minor language, some stylized violence and gore. Little to no sexual content. A fair amount of occult content, however. In Hellboy’s world, everything supernatural would seem to exist in….well, not harmony, but a unified worldview. This includes the Christian God and the Devil as well as more Lovecraftian things such as the Ogdru Jahad. God and the Church have power, but there are other things abroad in the world that have power as well and were old long before Christ was born in his manger. Hellboy is brought to Earth from another plane–implied to be Hell–in a dark ritual performed by Grigori Rasputin. He later tries to use Hellboy as the focus of another ritual to free the Ogdru Jahad (similar to H.P. Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones) and bring an end to the world as we know it. One of the short tales implies that Hellboy himself is the son of the Devil and a mortal witch. Ghosts, vampires….the Beast of the Apocalypse…..

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Review: “Battlefield Earth” by L. Rob Hubbard

Title: Battlefield Earth
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Galaxy Press, 2001

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Battlefield Earth? Isn’t that that movie that always tops the lists for the worst movies of all time?” Yes. Yes it is. It also happens to be a novel, which comes recommended by quite a few people including Neil Gaiman. Was it weird? Yes. Beyond a doubt one of the odder novels I’ve ever read, in a number of categories. But it was also strangely entertaining. For the record, I received a free copy for review purposes from Galaxy Press.

In the 1980s, Earth was invaded by the Psychlo Empire. Humanity was mostly exterminated, the few survivors retreating to the hills and other inaccessible locations. So long as they didn’t make trouble for the Psychlo’s mining operations they were mostly ignored aside from the occasional sport-hunting expedition, and over the next millennium human society slowly devolved back to the primitive. Now, as the year 3000 dawns, events are set in motion that will forever destroy this status quo. Terl, the greedy head of security for the Earth-based mining corporation, has hatched a scheme to make himself one of the wealthiest monsters on Psychlo when he makes it back home. This scheme, however, hinges on the obedience of captured human Jonnie Goodboy Tyler. But Tyler has his own plans, and they mostly involve kicking the Pschlos off his planet and making sure they never return….

On the one hand, Hubbard’s pulp pedigree is on full display here, offering a massive yet delightfully-readable adventure. On the other hand, this gets weird fast. The book clocks in at over a thousand pages, but it takes just over four hundred to reclaim the Earth. Then comes the hard part: preparing for the inevitable counterstrike from Psychlo. Hold onto your seat for a thrilling journey featuring such topics as diplomacy, vengeance, political scheming, and intergalactic finance! What, that doesn’t sound all that entertaining? You’d be surprised, actually. A lot of the time you just have to focus on the subplot at hand, shutting off that voice in the back of your head that is persistently asking what the heck this has to do with anything–it all makes sense by the end, I promise. Despite its reputation, the book didn’t involve nearly as much Scientology craziness as I’d expected–if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might miss it entirely. On the other hand, referring to the field of Psychology as “an ancient cult” is about as subtle as a brick in the face. The characters are all pretty two-dimensional, but that’s honestly to be expected. This is a return to the pulps, after all, albeit on a grander scale. The names are ridiculous, but I think that was intentional. The science is surprisingly sound, from what I can gather. In short, this is a ridiculously amusing ride…if you can lift it.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo. Some violence, including the gruesome aftermath of a torture session.

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Review: “The Circuit: Executor Rising” by Rhett C. Bruno

Title: Executor Rising
Author: Rhett C. Bruno
Series: The Circuit #1
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Diversion Books, 2015

(EDIT: The book has been given another proof-reading and re-released by a different publisher, so the author asked me to update the information found here. I’ve not seen the new version, but I’m told that the only difference is that it’s been proofread once again to catch those pesky typographical errors that seem to always slip past even the best of us.)

Reading works from debut authors can be a game of Russian Roulette, especially if the book has been self-published (This book is not, in fact, self-published, but I thought it was for some reason.) You sometimes find a gem, and other times you wind up beating your head against the wall wishing you’d never won that giveaway. This time, I’m pleased to say, I found something quite enjoyable. Unlike most of the relatively-unknown books and authors I’ve featured in these reviews, I didn’t actually seek this one out. Mr. Bruno was apparently trolling Goodreads reviews, found the one I did of Ancillary Justice, and figured I’d be a good candidate to review his own book. He was incredibly courteous, and of course I cannot speak highly enough of anyone who gives me free books, but beyond that the book was actually very enjoyable. Not perfect, there are some minor quibbles to be hashed out, but very enjoyable nevertheless.

It’s been five hundred years since the Earth was rendered uninhabitable, but humanity remains unbowed. We’ve spread throughout the solar system, scrounging and scraping a meager living wherever we can aided by the Kepler Circuit, a series of space stations set up by the Ancients of Earth before the planet burned. The stations of the Circuit are linked by the Solar Arks, traveling at nearly the speed of light from world to world distributing supplies and resources without bias. Most of the solar system is controlled by the New Earth Tribunal, a fanatically religious sect forged around the idea that the Ancients ruined the Earth with their technological and scientific hunger for knowledge that was not theirs to attain. They believe that all humans are linked together into a New-Agey collective spirit that remains tied to the Earth, and that someday the Earth will heal itself and we will be able to return home if we prove ourselves worthy. This has not, of course, stopped them from continuing to mine the Gravitum from the core of the Earth, allowing for humanity’s continued existence away from our home planet. Cassius Vale is an ex-Tribune, exiled to his home on the moon of Titan for heresy until the Tribunal is forced to ask for his help dealing with a string of attacks on their transports. Little do they realize that Vale himself is responsible for the attacks, or that these hijackings are only just the beginnings of his plan to bring down the Tribunal he has come to hate. ADIM is an android built in secret by Vale to further his plans. The Tribunal has outlawed all robotics research, declaring such artificial life to be abominations that have no place in helping us reclaim the Earth, even waging a genocidal war to wipe out as many of them as possible. ADIM is wholly devoted to his creator, and for his part Vale sees ADIM as a surrogate son. Together, they may very well bring down civilization as the Tribunal has shaped it for centuries. Sage Volus is an Executor for the Tribunal, operating behind the scenes to find and destroy their enemies wherever they hide. Her latest mission takes her to Ceres Prime, the asteroid colony that constitutes the largest threat to Tribunal domination of the entirety of the solar system. Talon Rayne is a Ceresian miner, formerly a general and bodyguard for one of the clan leaders who dominate the colony before a failed assassination attempt left him slowly dying and obsessed with providing  a better life for his daughter before he succumbs. These four characters are on a collision course with one another, and when the dust finally settles fate only knows who will be left standing.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this. It was really a great story, especially for a debut work. The prose was simple but cinematic, and you could “see” everything that happened very vividly. I understand the author is currently studying screenwriting, so the visual focus may have something to do with that. The characters were well-formed and complex, not the two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that populate the horde of mediocre fiction the age of internet publishing has unleashed upon us. There were minor issues of grammar, punctuation, and word choice, but much less than I’ve seen in other Indie works. (“He was a shadow of his formal self” vs. “former self,” things like that.)

I did have two character-related complaints; one a matter of taste and one I think is more a case of semi-universally accepted practice. I’ll start with this latter one: Cassius Vale is too perfect. He’s an interesting character, don’t get me wrong–I was fascinated by his character, sympathized with him, even occasionally found myself rooting for him despite my misgivings with his work (I’ll address that in a minute), but he really had little standing in his way. No, that’s not it exactly. He had all kinds of things standing in his way, a whole slew of obstacles to overcome before he can unleash his plan to bring down the tribune…and every single domino falls just the way he plans it. Every single thing that happens is according to his design, or at least easily dealt with. He’s got an incredibly complex scheme running here, and not a single wrench gets thrown into it. Maybe this isn’t as much a problem as I think it is; it certainly didn’t significantly detract from my enjoyment of the story, but I would have preferred to see him have to adapt on the fly to changing conditions in order to achieve his goals. A more minor complaint, more a matter of taste, is that while I enjoyed all of the POV characters found here, I found most of them very hard to root for. Cassius Vale is a snarky antihero with a tragedy in his past, and I think I’ve adequately demonstrated my weakness for those characters, but he’s ruthlessly pursuing a vendetta that cost countless innocent lives. ADIM is awesome, but working towards the same ends as Vale. Sage Volus is a kickass secret agent, again with a tragedy smouldering in her past, but she’s completely drank the Tribunal’s Kool-Aid and believes their crap wholeheartedly.* I like these characters, but I don’t necessarily want theirs goals to be achieved. The only character I can root for without reservation is Talon Rayne, and even there I have to wonder what use his bosses have for the Gravitum shipment they’re forcing him to hijack. But who knows, other readers may see this same issue as one of the strengths of the book–heaven knows that it can’t be easy to write a character you like even if you don’t want him to win.

The world Bruno has created here is incredibly complex, and I believe he at least is very familiar with its ins and outs. I could have used a little more information at times though. I had serious questions about a number of things as I read. Most of those were eventually answered, but having that happen sooner would have been nice. I would have been significantly more confused than I was if it weren’t for the book’s blurb that set the scene. That said, Bruno did manage to almost completely avoid that dreaded practice of “infodumping.” For some, that’s a cardinal sin. I don’t believe so myself, if it’s done well and manages to be engaging, but enough people have embraced that doctrine that a writer must think twice before employing it. Thankfully, he also managed to avoid the rookie mistake that many a writer has fallen prey to in their efforts to avoid this dreaded practice: characters telling each other things they should already know in an effort to inform the reader. “As you know, Bob, if Doctor Neffario manages to get his hands on the MacGuffin device he’ll end life on the planet Damsellus!” I would have liked to have been told what exactly happened to leave the Earth a barren cinder–it’s somewhat implied that it was a result of mining the core for Gravitum, but if that were the case I think the Tribunal would stop the mining as part of their efforts to make the Earth habitable again. Unless that’s just rhetoric to keep the unwashed masses in line, of course.

Some of the science is wonky, or at least under-explained–you can break the rules of physics, but you should acknowledge doing it and offer some explanation. Some examples: the ease of communication between Vale and ADIM, even across vast distances. Elsewhere in the book it is implied that distance affects the ease and clarity of communication, but ADIM has a communicator with seemingly infinite range built into his head? Seems like that device should be pretty big, if it’s possible at all in this universe. Or maybe not, it just seemed a little inconsistent to me is all. Then there’s the Circuit itself. Everything is described as if it stays stationary relative to each other, but all of those planets are orbiting the sun at different speeds. I assumed the Circuit was a teleportation network like the Stargates in that universe, but it’s revealed towards the end that instead they are space stations that allow the Solar Arks to pick up and drop off people and cargo without ever slowing down from their near-light speed. The routes of those Solar Arks take must be convoluted as all get out and subject to some killer calculations. Again, not insurmountable, but some acknowledgement of the issue and a throwaway line about how it works would be nice.

CONTENT: R-rated language, pervasive but not gratuitous. Some brutal violence. Some fairly strong sexual innuendo, but I don’t recall it becoming very explicit.

*Do I detect the mold of Mara Jade in this character? Methinks I do! That’s okay, if you have to imitate somebody, Timothy Zahn is one of the greats. There are other loans from Star Wars, such as the name Talon (not-Karrde) or the Hands and Executors (though their roles are modified/flipped.)

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Review: “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth

Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent #2
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Katherine Tegen, 2012

I’ve decided I need to be more focused when I read a series. I’ve always tried to not binge, but that’s obviously not working–I never finish! So here we go. Insurgent! Plus, the movie’s coming soon, and I know I’m going to get pulled in to see that with my wife and/or my sister….can’t see it ’til you read it, after all….Oh, and since this is the second book in the trilogy, it’s bound to be a bit spoilery for the first novel. If you’ve not read the first one yet, you’ve been warned.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off. The faction system is shattered, teetering on the brink of collapse due to the unprecedented attack led by Erudite against the Abnegation. Erudite stands powerful, maintaining a position of strength after seizing control of the city. Abnegation is almost nonexistent, most of its leaders and citizens slaughtered. Dauntless is fractured, split between those allied with Erudite and those in revolt, horrified at having been manipulated into committing genocide. Amity stands aloof, offering a safe haven for refugees of the attack, while Candor stands undecided. But there is a sixth group that no one has considered yet, and they may hold the key to everyone’s future in this troubled city. Can Tris and her friends trust the Factionless? And regardless of the answer to that question….do they really have a choice?

I stated before, in my review of Divergent, that I thought this trilogy was far superior to The Hunger Games for a variety of reasons. I still hold that opinion, and I don’t think it’s likely to change despite my sister’s allusions to her “ocean of tears” after finishing the last book. The writing continues to flow almost effortlessly from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and while I’m admittedly unlikely to give these a second read-through (I only do that if I really like a book) I have to admit to an incredibly reluctance to stop reading once I’ve started. Tris is a bit less emotionally stable this time around, and I can see where some people get annoyed at that, but I think it’s only natural for the character. She just watched most of the people she grew up with get massacred, her parents both sacrificed themselves to save her (a sacrifice she feels deeply unworthy of), and she was forced to shoot one of her closest friends in the face when he tried to kill her while under simulation control. I think her emotional breakdown is warranted, and while I don’t like whinyness in a narrator, I think I would find her character less believable if she didn’t break down occasionally. And believably, overwhelmingly human characters is something that Ms. Roth does incredibly well. There are a couple characters who are just outright slime (Eric, for example), but most of the villains are operating from a desire to serve the greater good…as they see it, and regardless of the cost. That element in particular is highlighted in this book, as we get more insight into just what the heck went down to cause the Erudite coup. I’ll not get too lost in rambling, except to say that any lingering qualms I had about the premise of the trilogy after the first book (and there weren’t many) have been laid to rest.

CONTENT: Brief R-rated language (I think, I don’t actually remember any, but the first one had some….) Strong, occasionally gruesome violence and its aftermath. Mild sexual innuendo and flirting, but nothing too explicit.

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