Thursday 13 January 2011

Book Review | Death's Disciples by J. Robert King

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She thought she was dead.

When she woke up in the hospital, she could barely remember getting on the flight, let alone the terrorist bomb of which she was the only survivor. 
But she can hear the voices in her head, for they are the spirits of the dead passengers.

They cannot rest until they have delivered their terrifying message: the terrorists know she survived... and they're coming for her!


I don't often bang on about cover art here on TSS. I don't really see the point. There are those amongst the community, gathered about the religious fringes of speculative fiction, who make posts squaring off covers from the US and the UK against one another, simply to conclude that this piece rocks harder than that piece. And perhaps it does. But what of it?

Now I'm as tired of the hooded swordsman cloaked in mystery and enigma as the next guy, the pristine spacecraft set against a canvas of Epic Space Battle - don't forget the explosion! - but these sorts of covers, they exist for a reason, and it's not to frustrate us. Slap a leather-clad hottie with a prominent tramp-stamp on your urban fantasy fiction and you're as good as guaranteed to shift so many copies; it's as simple as that. And that's fine. I'm sure you and I would rather it weren't the case, but if it helps sell a few more units, surely the attitude to adopt is one of... whatever.

So I don't go on about cover art very often - I don't believe there's a great deal to be said of it, one way or another - but having just turned the last page of Death's Disciples, the latest original novel from sometime tie-in author J. Robert King, I'm struck by just how perfect that British cover is.

Not how good it is, no no. But how very appropriate.

Because like that simplistic rendering of a plane exploding, there's not a whole lot to the mile-a-minute narrative of Death's Disciples. You'll power through it in an evening or two. And when all is said and done, you won't likely spend a great deal of time lost in thought about the tale of the "311 Miracle," Susannah something-or-other. Formerly a high-flying investment banker, Susannah - the only survivor of an aeroplane bombing ascribed to the titular terrorist cult - wakes up in the hospital an amnesiac, unable even to remember her name. When the first assassin comes to finish her off, all she knows is what the FBI have told her, and so she is whisked off to another, supposedly safer location, and her recovery abruptly stymied.

As wave after wave of Death's Disciples come to put her down, Susanna's first priority must be to survive, but all the while, even as the bullets fly narrowly by, the question - "Who am I?" - plagues her. Well, as it so happens, all signs point to her having been a total bitch. But without her memories to tie her down, without past experience to point the way forward, can she somehow become a better person?

Death's Disciples is a whimsical, darkly comedic thriller which does exactly what it says on the tin. And in case you were wondering - if that iconic cover there doesn't say everything that needs saying - written on said tin, boldfaced and all in caps, is ENTERTAIN. As a matter of fact... here! Have a taste:

Now various of Death's Disciples' twists stretch its narrative credibility near to, and then beyond breaking point; the majority of its characters are either two-dimensional plot devices or red herrings in person form; and there's nothing remarkable about the prose, be it dialogue or exposition. But it's all of in service of the fun.

And so long as you don't take it too seriously - and certainly J. Robert King knows better than to - there's fun in abundance. It's like The Mall of Cthulhu with tech-savvy Satanists instead of tentacles, or else Joe Hill's Horns without the horns. Funny, fearless and frenetic from the first to the last, Death's Disciples is the very definition of disposable fiction: use once and discard appropriately.

But do use it.


Death's Disciples
by J. Robert King

UK Publication: January 2011, Angry Robot
US Publication: February 2011, Angry Robot

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