Saturday, 19 November 2011

Review | Juggernaut - Adam Baker

Back in August, I read, and (inevitably) reviewed Adam Baker's debut: Outpost: and liked it. I might have spoiled the review for you there. Juggernaut is its prequel: the threat - the speculative element - is identical, but the cast is not. And it makes for an even better story. And since I was impressed with the original debut: well, that means a lot.

But before we start, let's say two things: I am not a huge horror fan - in most cases. Cthulhu (and his reality warping family), yes. Johannes Cabal, yes. Regular zombies and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night? Not so much: I like my fantasies to be of discovery and a variety of tones. Juggernaut, however, takes a close-to-typical, if nasty speculative element, and makes it brilliant through the mundane. How? Well, we'll see.

The novel is set in Iraq (with the slightly melodramatic tagline: 'They searched for gold. They found death.'). Nevertheless, that is part of the hook. From the beginning, Lucy and her band of mercenaries are straightforward profit-seekers. Yes, they have redeeming features: but they're not the golden hearted, never-do-ill of fantasy either. And that's pretty refreshing! Outpost's cast always were a little passive at times: whereas Juggernaut's have the skills to pull off those believable moments of awesome-that-I-really-won't-spoil-for-you. Hah. At any rate, they're after stashed gold: but from the beginning, it's clear there's more going on. Koell's manipulative presence is everywhere (because who doesn't love a manipulator?) - he's no Baelish, but certainly an interesting villain. As bioweapons, metal-spined zombies, and the threat of apocalypse become involved, Lucy and her band of mercenaries are tested to their limits in a desert they'll have to escape.

The first fifty pages or so of the novel are slow and straightfoward: there's no speculative element, Koell's moves are obscure, and Lucy's band gets no chance to show off. Then we start getting some interesting (and nasty) revelations: and by page 100, I was gripped. The prose is sparse and factual - I'm mixed on whether I'm a huge fan of this type, but for this kind of horror, it really works.

There is a caveat, though: Juggernaut is a novel to read for the anticipation and action - not the characters. While Lucy's companions fit the story well, none of them were truly distinctive in the same manner as Koell and Jamil (the resident Mr. Exposition), who I found most likeable in context. You won't find huge variation in tone, either: this is focused on a short time period and atmosphere - you won't be finding comic relief. For those willing to accept this, however?

Juggernaut is survival horror at its best. With the spare prose giving it the feel of almost-fact, the feats seem all the more impressive: and relentlessly gripping. Filled with characters you might not love, but will certainly love to watch, this game of zombie bioweapon cat-and-mouse in the Iraqi desert is definitely worth your time.

Read this book, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!

10 comments:

  1. yep, I can't wait to pick this one up. mostly because OUTPOST was a lot of fun!

    cheers,

    TZH

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's a wonderful read indeed - if you enjoyed OUTPOST - and thus Adam Baker's style -, you'll definitely like this one.

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