Having found Jonathan Maberry's Patient Zero
surprisingly enjoyable I was looking forward to this follow-up adventure of Joe Ledger and the DMS.
I can only say that it failed to live up to my expectations. Whilst Patient Zero was a tightly plotted, focused exercise in high octane excitement, by contrast The Dragon Factory is a rambling tale that lacks focus, is poorly paced and goes on far too long for too little reward.
The action in the book remains very well written, with some of the set-pieces easily up to the standard of anything in Patient Zero. To get to them however, you have to wade through some horribly self-indulgent and overblown writing. Bits of this crept into Patient Zero, with Ledger's inner monologues that were full of cod-psychology and purple-prose, but such episodes were thankfully kept to a minimum. In The Dragon Factory they're front and centre from the word go and quite frankly they irritated the hell out of me. Much more introspective self-analysis about 'the inner warrior' and I might have given up on the book entirely.
Worse than that however, was the central plot of the book itself. Surprisingly, though Patient Zero dealt with zombies as bio-weapons its plot felt far more plausible than anything on offer in The Dragon Factory. From the identical, twisted blonde twins to the genetically engineered creations Ledger and co encounter none of it felt remotely plausible. The true identities of the primary bad guys were both utterly predictable and laughable, and by the time events lead all the protagonists to an artificial forest populated by various mythical creatures I was really struggling to suspend my disbelief. The problem is that Maberry takes a relatively simple idea, a threat to world stability and security from genocidal madmen armed with genetically engineered weapons, and makes it far too complicated and OTT.
The same goes for the book's narrative, which contains numerous flashbacks that are ostensibly there to provide background but often feel redudant. We don't need to know how various minor characters die or to spend time with the IT geeks at the CDC. The information these episodes contain could be conveyed by far more efficient methods that don't slow down the narrative. At times it feels like Maberry has watched one too many episodes of LOST on TV and decided that flashbacks were cool.
All I can hope is that Maberry's next book is handled by a stricter editor who reigns in some of the authors excesses. He remains a great writer of action and characters such as Mr Church and concepts like the DMS are still great. He just needs to drop the psycho-babble and keep his plots more streamlined (and less predictable too. I could see the ending of TDF coming mile away and one character's eventual fate was obvious hundreds of pages before they actually met it). Books like this don't need to be full of stylistic tricks or heavy handed emotional beats. Three stars, but only just!