The Real Story starts with the patrons of Mallory's Bar & Sleep experiencing something that doesn't make sense. Angus Thermopylae walks into the bar with a beautiful woman at his side. Angus is an evil man and a suspected pirate/smuggler with a reputation for being a loner. The young attractive woman at his side is Morn Hyland, a law enforcement officer who should want nothing to do with someone like Angus. It is obvious to many of the patrons that she is a captive of some sort but she doesn't seem to be acting like one. Enter the dashing Nick Succorso, who confronts Angus and appears to rescue Morn away from him. The patrons of Mallory's then speculate on what they just witnessed and it is clear to many that this is a classic case of a hero (Nick) rescuing a victim (Morn) from an evil villain (Angus.) While that is indeed true, it is also not "The Real Story."
The story arc continues as some of the villains from The King of Plagues are behind a new threat to the world based in the Middle East. In Iran for a rescue mission, Echo team and Joe Ledger are tipped off that seven, or more, nukes are in the hands of an ancient order known as the Red Knights and are currently planted around the world. With an end game that intends to turn the world into a radioactive mess the DMS has very little time to come up to speed and formulate a response. With Ghost at his side, Joe Ledger starts to reveal just who these Red Knights are and he is having a hard time believing what he finds. After all, vampires aren't real, right?
A young mage hidden at birth and raised in anonymity by a lowborn family? Check. A coming of age story with a younf male lead and an obvious love interest? Check. An evil rival that wrongs said love interest? Check. I could keep on going but you get the point. If you have read a lot of fantasy literature then you have read this all before, and while there is nothing terribly wrong with The Blacksmith's Son, there is also very little to make it stand apart from the competition. The five book Mageborn series gets off to a mediocre start with this one.
The King of Plagues brings back some baddies from a prior book as the Department of Military Sciences discovers the existence of the Seven Kings. They are a powerful cabal bent on causing chaos throughout the world and profiting from it. The Seven Kings use their knowledge of the upcoming chaos they will cause to make money on various fronts as wars and catastrophes impact the world markets. Ruled over by "The Goddess" there are seven members of the cabal each with an advisor who acts as their "conscience." It turns out that they have a vacancy and are in need of a new King of Plagues.
Mankind has lived among the stars for generations with interstellar trade primarily occurring through a series of space stations that connect Earth and the outer worlds. These stations were created by the Sol Corporation, known as the Earth Company, one after the other slowly extending mankind's reach out into the universe. Merchant ships that travel between the stations are run by families that have spent generations in space and the same is true for the inhabitants of the stations. These generations of space faring humans have developed social structures completely independent of Earth and eventually this causes the human race to begin to splinter. The long standing earth centric society is now breaking down as the outer planets exert their influence. They have now created their own military fleet and are rejecting the company, and earth centric, way of life. As the company military fleet falls back the conflict coalesces around Pell station which is in orbit around the planet Downbelow.
The Dragon Factory picks up shortly after the events of Patient Zero as the Department of Military Sciences is faced with a new, completely different threat. This time around there is no zombie plague but rather a planned extinction wave targeted to wipe out a specific large portion of the human population. With the concepts of eugenics, genetic manipulation, and disease weaponization all taken to mad scientist levels the DMS must beat the clock to figure out who is behind the threat and neutralize it before the Extinction Clock counts down to zero. The story is a bit more complex than the first book and therefore starts slower but it eventually comes together and builds to a satisfying crescendo.
This book has many things to like about it, and some not to like, which might very well be appropriate as the story revolves around the combination of opposites. There are two main characters in this one - Prince Jalan Kendeth, a womanizer and self proclaimed coward, and Snorri, a Viking warrior out for revenge against those who attacked his homeland. Snorri and Jalan form an odd couple dynamic as fate thrusts them together and sends them out on a suicide mission where they must find a way to get along or they will both end up dead. With their opposing personalities playing off each other they both face obstacles in their own unique way while never really knowing the bigger picture of what is going on.
It is tough to find the right kind of funny when it comes to books and even harder when it comes to humorous sci-fi. I dip my toes in these waters often and usually come away perplexed as to why other reviewers thought the book was funny. I took a similar chance on this one and while I do like the main character Hank the overall story leaves a lot to be desired. Steven Campbell tells a meandering tale that fluctuates between interesting and mind numbing and Hank's humorous outlook on life just wasn't enough to carry the day with this one.
Some books take a while to find their legs and get going but this is not one of them. Right from the beginning I found my curiosity piqued and I was rooting for Joe Ledger even though I still didn't know too much about him. Jonathan Maberry does an excellent job of story telling in Patient Zero by the manner in which he reveals the bigger picture while at the same time providing increased insight into the man that is Joe Ledger. Patient Zero is a bit of a mash-up of 24 with a zombie apocalypse and things remain interesting from cover to cover.
Having enjoyed all 6 existing books in Abercrombie's First Law series I find myself always craving for more. That is why I picked up Sharp Ends despite the fact that I tend not to like collections of short stories. Add on that Steven Pacey narrated the audiobook and there was no way I could resist this one. The Abercrombie/Pacey audiobook combo is one of the best that I have ever listened to and the two of them just bring out the best in each other. Pacey's narration of these characters is just superb and I highly recommend that you give this series a listen even if you have already read it. To my delight many of my favorite characters from the prior books do make an appearance in these short stories including, but not limited to, Glokta, Logen, Dogman, Bethod, Whirrun, and Nicomo Cosca. However, in the end, the short story format left me wanting more and feeling unsatisfied as favorite characters appeared and were gone before I knew it.