California Literary Review

Book Review: The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

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March 10th, 2010 at 10:32 am

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The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry
The Dragon Factory
by Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin’s Griffin, 496 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★½☆

All in the Family

The Extinction Clock is counting down. Time is short—10,800 minutes (just seven days)—and if the clock zeroes out, billions will die.

Ex-cop Joe Ledger and the DMS (Department of Military Science) are assigned the mission to stop the clock and the men behind it, a pair of freakishly brilliant monsters who intend to commit genocide on an apocalyptic scale. Cyrus Jakoby and his faithful colleague Otto have come up with a beautifully simple way to deliver their lethal bio-agent in a way that specifically targets blacks and homosexuals.

Joe and his people are starting out in the dark, and it doesn’t help that the acting President wants to dismantle the organization while he has the chance. Adding to the pressure is Joe’s state of mind. He’s still mourning a friend who committed suicide and he’s having trouble keeping it strictly business with an attractive colleague who just happens to outrank him.

The whole “scientists with guns” sub-genre of thrillers owes a lot to Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels and writers like James Rollins (author of the excellent “Sigma Series” books) and David Lynn Golemon’s (the “Event Group” novels) have brought their own spin to the concept. Maberry’s DMS (Department of Military Sciences) is up there with the best of them and this book, the sequel to Patient Zero, offers science that is scarily plausible.

This is a very cinematic thriller written in movie-style parallel storylines that introduce us to our heroes and villains before setting them against each other. Readers who like plot-driven fiction will find this book as satisfying as a bar of Swiss chocolate but may feel a little overstuffed after devouring all 496 pages.

The various plots unfold at a breakneck pace, drawing readers in from the very first page. Not interested in a plot thread involving a super-computer intelligence program that makes Echelon look like a simple phone tap? There’s always the subplot involving the race-targeted doomsday virus or the genetically engineered monsters cooked up in the “Dragon Factory” of the title.

The story sprawls across the globe and involves a large, multi-culti cast of characters. We’ve seen types like these people before, but Maberry makes them fun. When wise-ass Joe Ledger is confronted by suits waving NSA badges and demanding he come with them, he asks them how NSA is spelled. That snarky edge helps Maberry pull off some of Ledger’s more bombastic moments in the story and manages to keep the DMS part of the tale anchored in some sort of reality.

There’s a large cast of supporting characters, from Rina Sanjay, a freshly minted researcher at WHO to Mr. Church, the enigmatic head of DMS who is not above blackmail at the executive level to make certain his budget is protected.

The villains are charismatic and wily and all of them are totally nuts. Cyrus is the craziest in some ways, but Otto has to be nuts to have served him so faithfully over the years. They are bad guys but in a way that still feels a bit real world, unlike the Twins (Hecate and Paris Jakoby, Cyrus’ genetically engineered offspring) who are super-villains out of a comic book. They’re beautiful and decadent and crazy too, so they’re amusing characters, but nothing about them is even remotely real.

The writer has also done a good job of creating details that make Cyrus’s evil world come alive. Otto likes concocting meals out of genetically engineered vegetables (dwarf broccoli, spinach-carrot hybrids) and meat from birds long extinct (like Dodos). It’s a whimsical detail that tells us much about how fiendishly playful these two monsters are. (And for the record—Dodo does not taste like chicken but more like bald eagle, only chewier.)

This is a world where things have been developed with great attention to detail complete with gadgets that will appeal to the techno-thriller crowd. The science is one step beyond bleeding edge, but not so far into science fiction that it doesn’t seem likely. This is also a world where no matter how outlandish things get, there’s a real sense of logic underlying the events. It may be mad logic—Cyrus is quite aware that he’s insane—but nothing happens without a very good reason.

Some of the plot twists are fairly predictable (it’s not hard to figure out who the mole inside DMS is) but others…others are not predictable at all. There’s never too much time to stop and think, and the mysteries that present themselves (“Who, or more precisely, what, is Child 82?”) keep us from getting too far ahead of the story.

Paris and Hecate have authority issues and when Paris inevitably challenges their father (the Twins call Cyrus “Alpha”) it gets very ugly very quickly. Paris may be a quantum cuckoo, but he is much less deluded than his father is when it comes to the chimeras they’ve created. The problem is that Cyrus may have taught the twins all they know but he hasn’t taught them all he knows. The maneuvers and counter-maneuvers of the members of this most dysfunctional family form the core of the most entertaining parts of the novel.

The book’s weakness is probably dialogue. Maberry gives Ledger some good lines, but every once in awhile; he also gives him a groaner like “Let’s dance.” No one will be reading this book for the dialogue though—it just gets in the way of the action.

Maberry delivers on every promise he makes in this book, throwing cryptozoology, Nazi plots, bio-terrorism, secret cabals, island lairs and computer viruses into the mix. The stakes are high—nothing less than global mass murder—and if Joe and his team can’t stop what Otto and Cyrus have set into motion then God help us all.

The Dragon Factory is uncomplicated fun. There are some quiet moments when Joe talks to his friend Rudy about his failures in life or when Grace Courtland, Joe’s designated love-interest-to-be, tells him she can see that things are bothering him, but mostly the book is one long adrenaline rush.

If you don’t have time to read The Dragon Factory now, save it for the beach. This cross-genre thriller is the perfect way to relax on a lazy summer afternoon.

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