Lookit me finishing a book! It’s been a crazy year, and I’ve not read anywhere near the amount of books that I’ve wanted… although that hasn’t stopped me buying books because that’s just crazy talk. What has been all kinds of great is the discovery of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Extinction Cycle series (big up Geoff Brown for putting me onto them).
I’d been sitting on Extinction End (book five in the series) for a while, which is no reflection on the book itself, rather on my complete lack of time to give it the reader-respect it deserves. Two minutes before bed with eyes feeling like sandpaper does not good reading make. Also makes AJ cranky-cranky-something-something.
So between moving house and all the “fun” that goes along with that, I managed to get away for five days to my father’s farm where there is nothing but the call of birdsong, verdant hills as far as they eye can see, and steer fights over mounds of dirt (don’t ask). The perfect reading environment.
Before I go any further, time for the requisite spoiler warning:
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE, BIG MOFO SPOILERS THAT WILL SPOIL IN ALL THEIR SPOILERY SPOILMENT. CLICKETY-CLACK, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
In my Amazon review, I called this series military-horror at its finest, and I have a foot in this world (not the Variant world, ‘cause I don’t think I’d have enough clean underwear to make it through a Variant meet-and-greet), but the military-horror publishing world – I read a lot of it, and I know stand-out when I read it.
Extinction End was supposed to be the final book in the series, and while book six is about to hit the bookshelves any day now, this tale is told with finality and the tying up of threads for the characters trying to survive in this new world. Although part of me has to wonder whether Smith was truly finished with Team Ghost tales, as the epilogue really did leave it open for more.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Variants have evolved with each book, and are now thinking, strategizing and some are speaking – crude though it is – but it’s a kind of mental… telepathy that has the Variants working as soldiers. Desperate, now, for the only food source available – people. They’re also breeding – evolution really is kicking it up a notch here.
With a great mix of science and military action, Extinction End is hard-core – and it should be. It was written as the last book, so things are always going to get worse before they get better… if only slightly better. There are several threads running through this, but it’s held together by the two main characters: Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and Dr Kate Lovato – now expecting their child.
From beginning to end, there’s no let up on the tension; it’s fast-paced, and tightly packed with action and gunplay. And to add to it all, there’s mutiny afoot. That’s the thing with an apocalyptic event, people (by definition) are going to come at the problem in different ways, and they’re always going to believe their way is the right way, the only way.
Smith plays with these threads like a puppeteer, manipulating and shifting the players on the stage like a macabre dance. Nothing is guaranteed in this world. And going into this book with the knowledge Smith isn’t afraid to maim or kill major characters (you and I need to speak about Riley, Nick), each chapter was like the tightening of a bowstring – there’s only so much give before it snaps and takes you out.
There’s no doubt Smith has a great regard for the women and men who serve in the armed forces; it’s evident in the way he’s drawn those who don the uniform, in their character and their willingness to sacrifice all to save those they’re meant to protect. And some do. Not all make it through this book, nor should they, and with a possible advantage over the Variants, it’s Team Ghost that goes in again.
The last few chapters of this book were a hard read. You know not all of the team will make it back, that the shit will really hit the fan – you’ve been following these characters for five books now, something’s gotta give. And it did, in a big way.
Now if you’ve read this far despite the spoilers, I’m giving you one last chance to look away – major spoiler ahead.
I admire a writer who takes the hard road with a main character, and Smith does that by having Reed hit with Variant venom. It’s a death sentence by all accounts, but the quick thinking of Big Horn via two field amputations saves Beckham’s life. The loss of his right hand and his left leg from the knee down, plus impaired vision means he’ll never be the soldier he once was. His war is effectively over. Tough call it must have been, but it was the right call.
There’s a strange satisfaction in that; Beckham’s not invincible, that war claims everyone in some way or another. From the man in the street who sides with the Variants for survival, to the colonel aboard a battleship who orchestrates a mutiny for launch codes (now that was a satisfying death!). No one is immune, and Smith shows this in both harsh and subtle ways.
There is so much to like about this book – it grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. That’s what a story should do, it should drag you into the world, kicking and screaming if it must, but it makes you a participant, makes you invested, and makes you both want to turn the next page while dreading it also.
If you haven’t read this series, you need to rectify this immediately. And with book six – Extinction Aftermath – due out today… or tomorrow (time zones are weird), you won’t have to wait to see where Team Ghost ends up next. It’s Europe. Told you there’d be spoilers.
Well, don’t just sit there reading this, *flaps hand* Go. Now. Buy the books!
On a Goodreads scale, I give Extinction End five stars.