And I’m back from another too long lapse in blog posts…this time it’s entirely my fault–the fiction writing just was too compelling. (currently writing two new books while editing and revising a third.) Another reason I’m finally getting this done is because the library I borrowed this book from won’t let me even renew it once; I guess there’s too much of a demand for the book–and if that’s the case, I am not surprised in the least.
While Larry Correia’s name has been brought up a lot recently due to his book, Warbound, being up for the Best Novel award at this year’s Hugos, he’s long been on my radar, or rather, my Twitter. I don’t recall when I started following him, but it’s been a while, and I’ve always enjoyed his postings both there and on his website. (I also have a soft spot for the more outspoken, conservative-leaning folks in the literary world, so there’s that as well.) So, it was only natural that his work was in my ‘to get to at some point’ pile. But as the Hugo award season got into swing, I decided that since I have time to read now, and I discovered the request feature through my local library network, I could get books without having to trek out to inconvenient branches. Originally, I was going to check out Hard Magic, the first book in that series, because, as I may have mentioned before, I myself have an inkling to eventually writing historical fantasy set in the interwar period (1920s-30s), though I would set my stuff in Hungary, not the US. Unfortunately, not one branch of my borough’s public library had even as single copy of Hard Magic–and it’s not like they were all checked out, there just were none. So, I decided that since I’d already committed to picking up one of Correia’s books, I was able to get a hold of 1 of their 2 copies of Monster Hunter International (which, incidentally, they won’t let me renew even once, so as I write this the book is due. Hopefully I’ll finish and get it back on time. I guess the book is just that popular.)
And though I picked up the book in part because the book I wanted first wasn’t available, I am so glad I read this book.
So, without further delay, let’s get into Monster Hunter International. Guns, mythical beasties, and privately owned companies doing a job better than the Feds!
Setting: For once, it seems, the setting won’t take up so much of the review. Reason being, unlike most of what I read, this book is set in the ‘real’ world, roughly present day. Put simply (because I really am trying to get better at keeping these reviews short–though I say this when it’s already nearly 500 words long and I’ve barely started), in 1895, after banding together to stop a local vampire problem, a group of people in Alabama began to get hired to deal with other monster problems, and eventually turned it into a business, which grew more lucrative after the United States government created a bounty system. That’s it, really. All these supernatural beings are real, people hunt them, and they get to use all sorts of cool gadgets to do so. Primarily (at least in this book) in the southern United States.
Characters: Our main character in Monster Hunter International is Owen Zastava Pitt, who starts the book working a boring office job, in an attempt to become ‘normal’ after a past he’s not proud of. However, after he is attacked by his secretly werewolf boss (and is nearly killed before ending the werewolf in a battle that sees Owen take Harry Dresden levels of physical damage), he’s introduced to fact that such things exist, and after an encounter with the federal government’s people, Owen opts to join the titular monster hunting group, after they come to recruit him. As our sole first person viewpoint, Owen falls in the perfect place between competence in his own abilities (those primarily being shooting things), and being thrust into a new situation and reality ,which he learns more about along with us–apart from his prior fighting and shooting experience, he’s really a pretty average guy, and plenty likable as the lead, which is good, as first person viewpoints can end up irritating. It’s also very gratifying to see him come into his own throughout the book, going fro ma point where he doesn’t really even believe what he’s being told to where he really takes charge near the end.
As Owen is our only viewpoint character, everyone else technically falls into the realm of side or supporting characters, but I’ll briefly touch on a couple of the most important ones before briefly giving my opinion on the rest–which will be a bit easier than it sounds, as a lot of it falls under the group dynamic, which Correia pulls off excellently.
First, we have Julie Shackleford, who serves both as one of Owen’s first guides in the new world he’s entered, as well as a love interest as the book goes on. She really embodies the best aspects of strong, actiony female characters without falling into the pitfalls that many do, as there is more to her than the (awesome) facts that she’s a badass and has a quick wit. Especially as we learn more about her (fairly tragic) family history over the course of the book.
Next, we have Earl Harbinger, the current leader of the Mosnter Hunter International group. For most of the book, he’s just quietly awesome, from the moment he first gives Owen his business card to the end, where we learn a lot more about him, his past, and true capabilities. I’m really tempted to spoil it; I generally do discuss spoilers, but the spoilers regarding Harbinger are so awesome, and they’re not necessarily crucial to the plot, so I think I’ll stop here.
The last major character that’ll get his own section, is the Old Man, later discovered to be named Mordechai Byreika. He occupies a very interesting area of the book, as he’s technically dead from the start, and only Owen ever sees him, as he appears through visions. For lack of a better term, he’s Owen’s guide, or mentor, in many respects. He helps Owen and the others begin to unravel the greater plot, and serves as a moral center. Additionally, his own tragic backstory has a role to play in the plot, and he even manages to get involved in the action a tiny bit, when needed. And hey, I’ll never say no to cool Jewish characters in fantasy novels.
There are lots of other characters that serve to create a fun group dynamic, and while each individually doesn’t necessarily play a huge role in the plot, I enjoyed them immensely and I really did come to like each of them, which made the action scenes more tense, as I didn’t want any of them to die–remember this ,as I’ll mention this feeling again when discussing the plot. Overall, though, the characters were simply a lot of fun to read. They’re probably all people I’d enjoy hanging out with. Except maybe Grant Jefferson, who were are not meant to like anyway.
Oh, and the orcs in this universe are probably my favorite ever. Skippy the orc FTW!
Plot: So the plot, put simply, apart from the general setup of monster hunting, is that an ancient being known as the Cursed One has returned to try and complete a ritual that will bring about the end of the world. Fortunately, Owen is made aware of this, and he helps the monster hunters try and prepare to combat it, while he and other new recruits are still being prepared for the job in general. As the group is short on numbers, the newbies are taken along for support when they travel to a ship where the plot kicks off, and from there it’s back and forth between the monster hunter base and other areas of operation as they make slow but steady progress, while all the while Owen is struggling to figure things out with Mordechai’s help. The Feds also get involved, and succeed in making the challenge all the greater as Owen and co have to defy them and go seek out a crazy person to try and get answers. Ultimately, as we expect and hope, it all culminates in a big, awesome battle where everything previosuly set up is put to good use. For a book that’s over 700 pages long, it did not feel long, and the pacing was excellent, with the right balance of action with quiet moments.
There are also two somewhat specific plot elements that I want to discuss separately, because I liked how they were done so much. The first is the romance sub-plot. From their first meeting, Owen falls for Julie, but we soon learn that she’s in a relationship with Grant. My first assumption was “well, he’s a goner”. While Julie did eventually break with him over his actions, however, Grant survives the book, and I assume he’ll remain a part of the series. I also liked how Owen and Julie’s relationship progressed. I don’t know if saying it felt ‘real’ is the best way to describe it, but it did feel very natural given the story and the characters.
The second was simply one scene. Significant spoiler here, but I want to talk about it. The one where they were with the Feds in the swamp, following what we learn was a false lead, and they get ambushed by a seemingly infinite number of bad guys. Since it was fairly near the end, I figured it was going to be a big action set-piece, and they we might lose a supporting character or two. As I expected, one died, then another, and another..and I was starting to be “is he seriously going to kill everyone? I really liked these people!” Then Owen is able to gain control of the evil artifact of doom and set time back, which saves everyone (but has a major impact, as the time reversal affected the whole world). I was able to breathe a happy sigh of relief. Everyone was still around, at least for now. Well played, Mr. Correia. You had me really worried for a moment.
Magic: So the magic in this book is actually fairly minimal (apart from the magical creatures, only Owen, Mordechai, and the major villains make use of it), so I’ll also include all the guns in the magic section. Actually, I’ll start with them. Personally, I find guns to be really cool, but I know very little about them. While I’ve watched and enjoyed some shows that talked about really cool guns, most notably the Military Channel’s Futureweapons show a few years back, I had never held or shot a gun until just a few months ago, though I’d casually wanted to. I learned two major things that day: First, that rifles are significantly easier to shoot accurately than pistols, at least for me, and Second, that I really enjoy shooting and now I want to go again. I also fall on Correia’s side of the big gun control debate (though I live in NYC, so I’m unlikely to ever own one while here), so I really enjoyed spending a long book with gun nuts, and while I wasn’t familiar with everything they were saying, I was fascinated and it even more reinforced my desire to return to the range.
So on to the actual magic. The stuff with the magical creatures is fairly simple; they exist, and generally have a weakness that can be exploited. More specific examples included Owen’s being shown the memories of the Cursed One, with Mordechai’s help, and the artifact itself. The magic manages to ride the line between being somewhat mysterious but also understandable enough that it can be safely used in relation to the plot. The Cursed One, however, makes use of a more explicit ritualistic magic, and his nature as cursed is magical as well, and the Old Ones, are also quite dangerous. Overall, though, active magic kind of takes a back seat to the passive magic of the mythical creatures’ existence and the guns. I expect, though, that there will be more of it as the series continues, but the nature of the story means that there will almost always be less than, say, in epic fantasy, and that’s fine by me.
To conclude (I hope this kind of rushed review came out coherent), I loved this book. If I had to compare it to anything in terms of tone and feel, it would be Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, though Monster Hunter International is not urban fantasy so much as action fantasy. I accomplished what it set out to be, a fun, awesome, and smart story that took concepts that didn’t necessarily need to be smart to work as entertainment and elevated them. Now I need to get a hold of the next one.
Until next time, which I really hope won’t be too long from now, keep reading, and writing! (That’s basically bee my summer in a nutshell.)