What madness is this! Another review so soon after the last? The world must be spinning off its axis… which is rather fitting considering the theme of Extinction Edge, second book in the Extinction Cycle series. This is definitely a world where humanity is teetering on the brink. Huzzah! I mean… well, I mean ‘huzzah!’ – apocalyptic stories are some of my faves, and when you add in military horror, I’ve hit the trifecta.
Now before we venture into Nicholas Sansbury Smith‘s desolate world of monsters and mayhem, the requisite spoiler warning must be given. *clears throat*
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND THERE’S ONE. *points* AND THERE’S ANOTHER HIDING BEHIND THAT BURNED-OUT CAR OVER THERE. *points* AND BEWARE THE SPOILERS WAITING IN AMBUSH. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Right then. Let’s begin.
Extinction Edge picks up a wee time after book one, (review of Extinction Horizon here), and things aren’t exactly plum on Plum Island. Sequestered though they are, there’s no denying the siege mentality needed to survive what’s looking a lot like humanity’s last days.
In book two, we get to learn more about Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his team of Delta Team Ghost, that now consists of just ‘Big Horn’ and Riley – both of whom are excellent secondary characters who I like a lot… which in my world, means: if I like them a lot, death’s a-comin’ (I hate you Jinx Faerie!).
After losing half his team to the contagion virus, Beckham is determined to get Big Horn back to Fort Bragg to rescue the man’s family (dire though the outcome appears). It’s this that drives the first half of the book, and it’s a rough ride. With Riley severely injured, it’s just the Ghost operators on the mission. And a hell of a mission it is. I’m not going to divulge the fate of Horn’s family, but the battle to get to where the survivors may be holed up, is one of the best in the book.
Intertwined with this, is the work of Beckham’s love interest, Dr Kate Lovato, who is trying desperately to find a weapon to combat the monsters born from her previous biological weapon. It’s a mess, but a good mess for a book to have. Kate’s weapon wiped out about 90% of Ebola-ridden monsters, but that remaining 10%? Oh, they’re way nastier, and they’re evolving. Variants, they’re now called, and they’re the stuff of nightmares. (Can I get a huzzah?)
It’s these Variants Beckham and Horn will need to battle if they’re to find survivors at Fort Bragg – where Horn’s family is (hopefully) safe and hidden. It’s clear Smith has extensive knowledge of military tactics and weaponry, and this is brought vividly to life in the battle scenes against the Variants at Fort Bragg. Smith puts to great use high tension and critical action to draw the reader in, and draw it did. It’s been a while since I’ve forgone sleep to read, but Smith owes me at least four hours.
The medical side of Extinction Edge is interspersed nicely with the military action – the peaks and troughs throughout the book give the reader time to breathe, but make no mistake, science is going to play a big role in the books, and Lovato’s character arc is really starting to come into play not just in the lab, but with Beckham. Balance in a totally unbalanced world is a nice juxtaposition.
While it’s clear Beckham and Lovato are the spearheads for the story, the secondary and minor players are well-developed, and don’t sit like cardboard characters on the page. With the amount of death that’s happening (and they’re grisly and kinda awesome), those characters that rise to take the place of those who’ve been lost, hold their own. Fitz is a very addition, and highlights the casualties of a war that’s all too real; Smith gives him purpose, makes him a real player in his own right – he’s fast becoming a… (I see you Jinx Faerie – on your way!).
As the second book in a five-book series, there was always the chance this book could stumble, the author trying to drag out the storyline, but this is a tight read, there’s little wandering from the plot and sub-plots, and the threads are woven together… not so neatly, and they shouldn’t be. This is a story still in its early stages, and there’s much to be discovered. And not all those who’ve survived humanity’s crash are as noble and honour-bound as the soldiers fighting for those who are left.
And with the Variants evolving, hunting in packs and creating ‘food’ stores, the battles are only going to get more bloody. Big shout out to Smith, too, on the creation of the nightmare creatures. They’re an assault on the senses, vile creatures driven by base instincts. And damn difficult to beat.
This is apocalyptic military horror at its best, so much so that I’m already well into book three.
On a Goodreads scale… ooh, it’s tough. Not quite a five, close but just not quite. So… 4.75 stars.