Javelin Rain (Gemini Cell #2)
by Myke Cole
There's something really badly wrong with me. An example: I'm at the climax of a horrifically graphic battle scene where Jim Schweitzer, ex-SEAL and current super-zombie on the run from a secret government cell, is desperately trying to protect his wife and child from magic-wielding mercenaries who have come to take him back or take him down. Schweitzer's wife is fighting for her life, but another mercenary has her in his sights. Schweitzer acts. In the sudden silence, he gazes at the body of the man who tried to rip lightning out of the sky and use it to fry Sarah. And my brain immediately goes:
He's dead, Jim.
But here's the truly amazing thing about Javelin Rain: even with my brain inserting lyrics from "Star Trekkin" at inopportune moments, the book still managed to be nail-bitingly suspenseful, gut-wrenching, horrific, sad, and bittersweet in turn.
One of the things I love about Myke Cole is that when it comes to magic, he doesn't do pretty and he doesn't do nice. His zombies are no exception. Unlike the rest of the Operators in Gemini Cell, Schweitzer may still have his mind, but his face is sheet metal stretched over skull, his eyes are glowing silver orbs shining out from empty sockets. His body shows marks from all previous battles, carelessly stitched and duct-taped to hold it all together. Death has irrevocably changed him. (It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.) Throughout the story, Schweitzer struggles to come to terms with the fact that while consciousness remains, his life is over. He can never be a father to his son, never take him to soccer practice, never take his wife out to dinner. Even as he risks all to protect them, there are heartbreaking moments where even his loved ones treat him as the monster he is in so many ways.
Javelin Rain is a little bit hard to characterize in terms of plot. It's a second book, a "things fall apart" book, in which Schweitzer sets himself in direct opposition to Gemini Cell. It's a fugitive's story, a chase, a series of desperate last stands. But it's also a love story. An increasingly creepy, violent love story, because the longer Schweitzer stays dead, the more of his humanity he loses. If you read my reviews, you probably know by now that I don't do romance, but love stories aren't necessarily romances. They're not about passion; they're about commitment, about compromises, about trust, about two alien people trying to create something together. Throw in the fact that one member of the couple has veins of glycerol and is steadily losing his last vestiges of humanity, the other has a small child with a bad case of poison ivy, and they're both on the run from a relentless military black ops military organization, and the love story really takes on a unique flavor. As one character puts it,
"Magic is like cancer. You don't ask for it, and it changes everything."
Schweitzer and Sarah's story is not the only plot running through the book, but it was definitely my favourite. Perhaps half the pagetime is from the perspective of other members of Gemini Cell, including Eldredge, the chief scientist of the cell, and Jawid and Dadou, the sorcerers responsible for creating zombie beings like Schweitzer. I found the Jawid/Dadou subplot deeply and troublingly problematic. Jawid, the only Muslim character in the book, is a naive simpleton who parrots repressive religious dogma and wants nothing more than to own a wife and family. Religious simpleton characters irritate me in general, and to have Jawid the only Muslim character in the story left a bad taste in my mouth. Dadou, who has a history of abuse and sexual assault, uses her own sexuality to cynically dominate those around her, mostly because her higher command orders her to do so, something that isn't really dealt with in the story. I wanted to empathize with her, and certainly her story is tragic, but she makes it awfully difficult. My other major complaint with the story is that a bunch of major plot elements didn't make sense.
(1) Why on earth would binding zombies into living beings make them more obedient? As far as I can tell, the Obedient Zombie Track Record is nil: one of them is running operations, one of them ran away, and the rest run wild. Why would an intelligent zombie be biddable? Wouldn't it have everything it wanted already? Equally, why would such a living zombie be "reliable, a known quantity", a "puppet"?
(2) On the same note, if Dadou really had the power to grab Sarah out of the soul-cyclone, then she already had complete power to make Silvers and to make living zombies. From the first book and from this one, we know the major problem is that the souls that come out of the vortex are just too strong. Yet if she really has the power to pick and choose, she could choose a weak soul, weak enough to be defeated by the Silver.
(3) On that note, the Soul Vortex. When I read it, I couldn't accept the vortex as the only end in the narrative because it's so damned depressing. Plus, harking back to Dadou's ability to yank anyone and everyone out of the whirlpool, it would mean that literally anyone could be used after death. Including Dadou. Do I smell a sequel? Personally, I'd rather the vortex be a single stop on the way to eternity, or eternal nothingness.
(4) Why on earth would Eldredge give up the knife? Surely it would be better spent protecting Patrick, because:
(5) If Sarah really wanted release, why couldn't she just go? Wasn't staying the hard part? It's not like the merc wanted her there. From what we know of the whole shared soul bit, leaving is easy. It's staying that's hard. So why didn't Sarah leave rather than be bait? ]
Schweitzer lived his life around the SEAL motto, "So others might live." But in this book, all of that starts to fall apart: we find out more about the Gemini Cell, their leadership, and their belief that they don't "have the luxury of ethical struggles." Gemini Cell suffers a bit from Second Book Syndrome. For one thing, I really don't think it can be read without the first book. For another, I can actually summarize the entire book, which demonstrates its simplicity. At the same time, it's an interesting step in the Gemini Cell saga, and there were plenty of shocking twists. Sarah underwent significant character development, and I find her one of the more interesting members of the cast. Javelin Rain also satisfied one of my biggest concerns with Gemini Cell. Schweitzer no longer sees himself as a sanctified paladin. He seeks to protect only his family by any means necessary. As he puts it:
"He didn't want to hurt anyone, but if he was going to be a monster, then he may as well be one to protect his own."
As always, the sequel is automatically on my to-read list. I'm dying to find out how Schweitzer's saga ends, not in least because hyperintelligent zombies don't make an appearance in the later Shadow Ops books, and I'm awfully curious about why. If you have any interest in creative, gritty, and graphic military urban fantasy, you definitely need to check out Cole's Shadow Ops.
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Berkley Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the book as a whole.~~