The best conspiracy theories contain an element of truth, and the best novels containing conspiracies do as well. Such is the case with Ryan Steck’s Fields of Fire, the debut novel from the founder of The Real Book Spy, one of the Web’s go-to resources for thriller lovers.
Matthew Redd is doing not only what he loves, but something he is good at as well: being a Marine Raider, part of the tip of the spear that is America’s special operations forces. With nods to the characters of Vince Flynn, Lee Child, Brad Taylor, and others, Redd is a hard-charging Marine with a heart of gold, both thanks to his adoptive father, J.B. But while gearing up for the takedown mission of a scientist-terrorist, Redd is deceived by the person he helps out on the side of the road, and the result is his being disgracefully drummed out of his beloved Corps. To make matters worse, he emerges from the stockade to find out J.B. has died.
Redd sets off to his home in Montana, to the small town and open spaces he hasn’t been around in for close to a decade. He finds himself at odds with his neighbor, the son of a BigTech billionaire, learns his high school sweetheart has returned, and can’t square the messages he’s getting about J.B.’s death with the man himself. Not getting any help from local law enforcement, Redd sets out to get answers using the skills taught to him by J.B. and the Marine Corps.
Ryan Steck enters an already crowded thriller field, but brings something fresh and new in the story of Matty Redd. As not only a lover of the thriller genre, but a student, Steck has learned his lessons well and crafted a solid debut. Incorporating bits of real life, such as the Georgia Guidestones and Bill Gates buying up farmland, albeit in this case his fictitious tech billionaire being the buyer, Steck weaves a conspiracy of global proportions into the rough-and-tumble locale of Big Sky life in Montana.
Steck signed a two-book deal with his publisher, and the next novel is easily but convincingly set up at the conclusion of this one. As an adoptive father myself, I could feel J.B.’s pain and pride as Redd recounted lessons his dad had taught him. I also enjoyed the carefully-laid plot twist. If you are a lover of the thriller genre, this is a great read to add to your library.
4/5 phins, a solid debut
At long last, my review of @TheJasonAnspach and @RealNickCole’s Forgotten Ruin: https://www.retrophisch.net/2022/07/26/retrophisch-review-forgotten.html
tl;dr: Do you like fantasy/D&D/Tolkien? Do you like military thrillers? If so, buy this, you won’t regret it.
My interests when it comes to reading fiction, like many, took a meandering path through my formative years. Thanks to Star Wars—yes, that was the name of the movie when it came out, none of this retcon naming nonsense—on the big screen when I was six, science fiction was an early staple of my childhood reading. When I was in seventh grade, I came down with chicken pox. Looking forward to a couple of weeks home from school, I sat in the car while my mother went into the school to talk with the front office about getting assignments from my teachers. Then, and God bless her for this amongst so much more, Mom went down the hall to the library, to get me a couple of books. After a discussion with the librarian about what I liked, she came back out with a set of books that changed my life in many ways: Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.
When I was 15, my dad brought home a paperback from a debut novelist: Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings before it, this was another pivotal moment in expanding my reading horizon. These three still remain to this day: science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. Oh, and did I mention that thanks to Tolkien and being at a middle school full of other nerds, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons? Well now I have.
So when a novel comes along that combines two of these elements, the military thriller, with fantasy/D&D, and does so very, very well, it is a no-brainer that I am going to love it. And such is the case with Forgotten Ruin.
Take a crack Army unit, throw them a few thousand years into our future, into a Europe disfigured and rearranged by a cataclysmic event which led to the very rearranging of DNA amongst the populace, so that races previously thought of as only fantasy, elves and orcs, are now a reality, and have these Rangers deal with it. Authors Jason Anspach and Nick Cole bill it as “Tolkien meets Shock and Awe.” They have crafted a real gem from a firecracker of an idea, and the execution is flawless from start to finish.
The story is told through Talker, a Ranger-come-lately. Talker is called Talker by the other Rangers because he’s a translator, speaks lots of languages, and not knowing exactly what situation the spec ops units being sent forward in time might encounter, the higher-ups figured it might be good to have some folks attached who can help out in case our heroes end up in a non-English-speaking realm. What the higher-ups don’t account for, as we learn from Talker, is just how far in the future they end up.
Ever wonder what the Battle of Helm’s Deep might have been like if Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Théoden, and the Rohirrim had machine guns to use against Saruman’s horde? You’ll get a taste of that and more in Forgotten Ruin. And what about the other units that went through, what happened to them? Talker and his Ranger buddies learn some lessons about them the hard way and seek not to repeat others.
The world Anspach and Cole have created, that of a modern military unit being cast into a medieval-style past/future/alternate reality, is nothing new under the sun, but their choices and execution of same render this nothing short of a masterpiece in the space. Is that too gushing of a sentiment? Tough. I told you at the outset I could not be impartial with this one.
Simply put: if you love military thrillers, if you love sword-and-sorcery fantasy, you will love Forgotten Ruin. Grab yourself a copy, Ranger Up with Talker and the gang, remember to Be Meaner Than It, and enjoy a great read.
In his debut novel, Don Bentley introduced the world to Matt Drake, a new kind of thriller hero, yet one still recognizable to fans of the genre. Without Sanction was a runaway bestseller, and I was glad to have followed the advice of so many on social media and give it a read. Drake takes the next step on his journey in the follow-up, The Outside Man.
I’ll be honest: I loved this book. In a private message exchange, I told Bentley I thought this was his Empire Strikes Back to the Star Wars of Without Sanction. The first novel sets the stage, but this one turns the volume all the way to 11 and takes Matt Drake, and his creator, to the next level.
After the events of the first book, this one opens with Matt being ambushed in broad daylight, on the streets of Austin, Texas, no less. There is a terrorist with a score to settle against Drake, backed up by professionals from the Middle East. Our hero manages to survive, but the ambush provides more questions than answers, and Drake is once again plunged into a world he thought he was desperate to leave, but finds his soul needs for him to truly be a part of. The villain we caught whispers of in Without Sanction is fully revealed here, and he is formidable. Worse, he knows exactly where to hurt Matt Drake the most.
One of the things I appreciate about Drake, and Bentley’s writing of him, is that he is fully human. He gets hurt, wounded, injured, and those have real-world consequences that affect how Matt continues his mission. Coupled with his vow to rescue an innocent from a sex-trafficking ring, and his snarky sense of humor, on more than one occasion one is left wondering, “Just how is Matt going to get out of trouble this time?“ As a thriller author, this is exactly what you want in your toolbox, to keep your readers on their toes and guessing what’s next.
Without Sanction was a firm entry into the thriller genre for Don Bentley, but The Outside Man vaults him into the band of my must-read authors, joining Daniel Silva, Mark Greaney, Lee (and now Andrew) Child, Nick Petrie, and Jack Carr. If you’re a fan of the genre, or just someone looking for a great read, The Outside Man is a must-buy.
Much has been made of the latest Jack Reacher novel, The Sentinel, due to its collaborative nature between Lee Child and his brother, Andrew Child neé Grant. After 24 Jack Reacher novels, Lee Child felt it was time to step away from the yearly grind of write, publish, promote, and begin enjoying a well-deserved retirement. However, knowing the love fans have for Reacher, Child didn’t want to simply end the series, and enlisted his brother Andrew Grant to take up the mantle. The Sentinel is the first of three planned collaborations before Andrew takes on the series solo. I discovered Jack Reacher—Child’s former Army MP now wandering vigilante—three years after the first book, Killing Floor, was published. I quickly blew through Killing Floor, Die Trying, and Tripwire, and began, like so many other readers, the annual wait for a new Jack Reacher novel to devour. While there are some notable differences with The Sentinel from prior Reacher tomes, devouring this one was no different from the rest.
Reacher takes himself to Nashville, to listen to good music, which in and of itself is a nod to Reacher’s past, as well as Lee Child’s as Reacher’s creator. The reason Reacher ends up in Margrave, Georgia in Killing Floor is he’s seeking out the home town of a blues man he likes. Reacher, being Reacher, gets involved in sticking up for the little guy in helping a local band, and finds he quickly needs to leave town. He ends up not too far away in Pleasantville, Tennessee. On the streets of the town completely by chance when a daylight abduction is attempted, Reacher thwarts the kidnapping and gets involved in a matter that runs deeper than it first appears, one with implications reaching far beyond the town itself.
There is certainly a different feel with The Sentinel from previous Reacher novels, the result of the collaboration between the brothers. Some reviewers have complained about the tone, or that there is too much expository from Reacher. I didn’t notice much of a change in that regard. As usual, there is ample opportunity for Reacher to say nothing. What stood out to me is that the novel didn’t feel as tight as previous efforts. One of the many things that has made the Reacher novels so popular is that Child’s writing style was as sparse as the main character’s wardrobe. It was a perfect marriage of style and character, and there is something of a departure from that in this latest book.
Nevertheless, I did not find it distracting to the point of losing enjoyment. Reacher is still sticking up the little guy, still mucking up the best-laid plans of those who wish ill on others, still being, well, Reacher. This was a learning process for the brothers, and I expect the next two Reacher novels will get better and better as Andrew establishes himself as the main author in taking on the sole responsibility for an annual Reacher story. While The Sentinel won’t vault into my Reacher top five, it is a solid entry in the Jack Reacher universe.
Happy Gabriel Allon Day, everyone! on Flickr.
This is insanely, wicked cool.
Featuring rare and never-before-seen artwork, Star Wars Storyboards: The Original Trilogy hits shelves on May 13.
I am an intricately complicated person. on Flickr.
Vader’s Little Princess: In this irresistibly funny follow-up to the breakout bestseller Darth Vader™ and Son, Vader—Sith Lord and leader of the Galactic Empire—now faces the trials, joys, and mood swings of raising his daughter Leia as she grows from a sweet little girl into a rebellious teenager.
Order your copy today for 30% off + Free Shipping at ChronicleBooks.com!
We have all boys, but I’m still buying this book.
It’s World Read Aloud Day! Pledge to read a book to a child today, because… Reading, it’s our only hope.
Preorder your copy of Vader’s Little Princess, Jeffrey Brown’s new follow-up to the runaway hit, Darth Vader and Son.
Some books just demand to be read in print. on Flickr.
While I have wholeheartedly bought into e-book reading, there are still many times when I like the feel of a dead-tree edition in my hands. And it seems there are some books that are just written for the printed page, rather than a screen. Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series falls into that category for me.