Review: The King of Plagues (Joe Ledger #3) by Jonathan Maberry

The King of Plauges-Jonathan Maberry-Ray Porter.jpg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having listened to the first three installments of the Joe Ledger series, The King of Plagues included, it's safe to say that I'll be a devout follower of Jonathan Maberry's hero for the foreseeable future (particularly since I've already downloaded the rest of these books and have book #10 on pre-order for its late-October release). But having also done a minor bit of binge listening and working through these first three books in fairly quick succession (for me, anyway), I'm not entirely sure what else I have to add beyond what I have already said in my reviews for Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory.

Maberry is a reliable author to turn toward, and the bulk of his work that I've read has left me satisfied. His Rot & Ruin series is a superb run of Young Adult post-apocalyptic zombie novels (a few which also feature Joe Ledger, naturally), and his latest, Glimpse, was an early favorite of my 2018 reads. His Ledger books follow a formulaic structure, as series books typically do, but they've proven to be immediately engaging. I like Ledger and his tough, smart-ass, but self-aware attitude, and Maberry has surrounded him with a great cast of supporting players and ultra-villainous baddies who you just cannot wait to see their asses kicked and/or killed.

The King of Plagues introduces us to a secret society of ultra-wealthy global elites, the 1% of the 1%, who control literally every single thing. They are the Seven Kings, and through their network of assassins, drug cartels, legitimate industries, terror cells, street gangs, government agencies, etc., they covertly run the world, destabilizing economies and nations for their own gain and pleasures. For the Goddess they serve, this is not enough, and so Sebastian Gault (a returning villain responsible for the zombie outbreak in Patient Zero) is recruited as their King of Plagues, with the goal of unleashing the ten Biblical plagues upon mankind in an act of global Armageddon. Joe Ledger, on sabbatical from the DMS, is called back into action to face what is easily the greatest threat he's faced thus far.

One thing that surprised me is the somewhat slower, more methodical pace of The King of Plagues in comparison to the prior two entries. Given this book's focus on germ warfare and biological terrorism, Maberry is forced to be a bit more restrained in the gunplay. While there are still plenty of great big giant action scenes, there are also quieter, more dramatic plays on turmoil. It is, after all, a little too reckless to get into a gunfight while wearing a hazmat suit and locked in a room surrounded by vials of ebola and contaminated air.

Restraining the violence is a good thing sometimes, and such moments allow Maberry to fully capitalize on the emotional horrors and physical trauma of murder by way of viral attacks, and the sense of powerlessness in the face of invisible microbial terrors. Other aspects of The King of Plagues are equally restrained, giving the book a bit more a grounded in reality feel. The Seven Kings aspect feels slightly comic-bookish and grandiose, but it's also hard to discount them given real world machinations and the influence of the ultra-wealthy on systems of governance and law. What cannot be discounted, though, is the severely human antagonists at the heart of Plagues. In fact, there's nary a zombie or genetically engineered beserker to be found. The horrors here are entirely human and natural, even if already highly deadly diseases have been given an extra bit of fictional oomph. For a series that has been populated with scientifically plausible-enough monsters, it's notable that Maberry bypasses that particular facet in favor of viruses and plagues, exhibiting the elasticity of this series and allowing the author and his characters to stretch their legs into some deeper and more diabolical arenas.

My only real complaint comes with a dangling loose end that came at the finale of the prior entry, The Dragon Factory. At that book's close, we saw Ledger on the hunt for an assassin that had previously escaped his crosshairs. It's an element that is all but abandoned here, as Maberry picks up the story sometime following Ledger's pursuit and his acquisition of an awesome white German Shepherd named Ghost. Apparently Ledger's hunt and Ghost's introduction are told in a short story, available separately naturally, which frankly irks me a bit. It's a bit jarring to have Ledger all of a sudden in the company of a killer attack dog, and denied the pay-off of The Dragon Factory's most pressing story thread.

This small issue aside, The King of Plagues is certainly a heck of a lot of fun. Ray Porter continues to impress, taking his rightful place as The King of Narrators as he exhibits a knack for various accents as Ledger's search for the Seven Kings takes him overseas to England and Scotland. It was fun listening to Porter adopt a Scotsman's brogue for some pertinent scenes, and his portrayal of the inmate Nicodemus allowed him to exhibit even further range in one particularly creepy scene.

Now that I've worked my way through the opening trio of this long-running series, I will be taking a small break from Joe Ledger's adventures before I get burned out. But you can be damned sure I'll be back for more soon!

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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