Genre absolutists will have a field day trying to classifying Forsaken, the second in Michael McBride's Unit 51 series. Like its Subhumanpredecessor, McBride seamlessly blends scientific thrills with plenty of action, globe-hopping adventure, and some moments of delicious horror, all of which add up to a gripping read that's difficult to adequately categorize.
Having spent the bulk of Subhuman slowly unravelling this series's premise with methodical deliberation and stage-setting for the books to follow, McBride drops readers straight into the deep-end in Forsaken. Six months after the startling discoveries beneath the Antarctic research base Atlantis, readers are reunited with the Unit 51 team as the book's core of researchers have returned to their research and explorations. Soon enough, each are drawn back into the thick of things as alien encounters in the Antarctic and the discovery of a buried Mexican temple point toward a common threat, as well as the emergence of a new enemy that may be pining for the end of the world.
It has been a while since I read Subhuman, so it took me a fair bit of time to reconnect with the women and men of Unit 51 and to try and remember who's who. McBride tosses in a lot of characters, a fair number of whom are disposable and make little more than a one-off appearance in order to be killed in various and interesting ways to help shuffle the plot along from point A to point B. This isn't a bad thing, in and of itself, but it does gives the primary members of Unit 51 a sense of imperviousness. While these characters constantly find themselves in peril and get all kinds of banged up along the way, I never really got the impression that they were in mortal danger simply because McBride reserves the bulk of Forsaken's grisly deaths for more minor, tertiary Redshirt characters. Character development is pretty thin and minuscule all around, a complaint I had regarding Subhuman as well, but one that is ultimately pretty low priority for me given how well everything else is done in these books. McBride keeps the pace amped up with kinetic fervor that I ultimately didn't much mind the disposable cardboard cutouts caught up in the mayhem. I was too busy flipping pages to find out what comes next and having myself a grand old time reading.
Despite my inability to connect with any of the characters, I found myself loving Forsaken simply because it's an incredible amount of fun. Fun goes a long way for me, and I can always count on McBride to deliver an entertaining read. Once he hits the halfway mark, Forsaken becomes an incredible actioneer, chockfull of adventure that carries the story along to the finish at a breathless, breakneck pace. The narrative hops between the various Unit 51 crew, ping-ponging between their ordeals in the Antarctic and the simultaneous, violent encounters in Mexico as the researchers explore the booby-trapped temple, and it's at this point that Forsaken becomes impossible to put down. This sucker is a roller-coaster, fueled on adrenaline and gunpowder, and with just as many turns and narrative wrinkles to jostle the car in a number of exciting ways.
Books like the Unit 51 series typically come in two flavors - dumb fun, like Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow books, or propulsive adventures wrapped around scientific plausibilities, like James Rollins's Sigma series. McBride falls in the latter category, exhibiting a rich scientific acumen, medical know-how, and plenty of attention to detail that gives both Unit 51 titles smarts to spare, as well as enough of a real-world pedigree to make the most speculative aspects of the plot wholly convincing.
I also like the fact that the Unit 51 series is shaping up to be a cohesive series. These aren't stand-alone adventures with all new stories for each installment. Unlike the Sigma series, Unit 51 is a legit, and massive, single story being told over multiple books in what I presume will be a trilogy. It's a safe bet a third Unit 51 title will be on the way, and I can guarantee I'll be reading it as soon as I can sink my claws into a copy.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author.]
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