Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Adam Baker


In Iraq in 2005 a train full of unconscious soldiers hurtles in from a contaminated zone in the desert. Lucy, one of these soldiers, is barely conscious after her ordeal. Already in the first few pages of this book there's the atmosphere of a zombie outbreak about to happen, intensified by Lucy's dead-eyed exhaustion and the beaten-up state of the juggernaut.

The story then skips back five days to Baghdad, where a small team of mercenaries are watching a lot of money change hands and bemoaning that more of it isn't coming their way. Their living conditions are bad, they're in a war zone, and they're all keen to retire rich before their luck runs out. This will be their last tour, they've decided.

It's not long before the violence flares up, and straight away we're faced with the ugliest side of war: hatred, kids dying, pointless murders, and so on. Corruption and cruelty are almost part of the wallpaper in this setting. The five mercenaries are hardly the kind of people you'd trust to babysit kids, but they're far from the most odious characters we meet. Their eyes light up when they hear about a truck full of stolen gold left in the desert that's there for the taking. Their source is a man called Jabril, a captive in Abu Ghraib with an inglorious past as a member of Saddam's establishment.

Arms dealers and pilots Gaunt and Raphael are failing to profit as much as they'd hoped to from the war. However they don't want to work with Lucy or her crew thanks to earlier experiences with them. Nevertheless they are persuaded, and soon they're all flying out towards the ominously-named Mountains of Death, with Jabril in tow.

The desert is a graveyard of buried armies and killing heat. The poisoned ground is jagged with ancient ruins, watched over by enormous, brooding statues. There's a fantastically tense atmosphere as they approach the desert site, building up our expectation of something really horrible waiting for the soldiers out in the sand.

The characters themselves are quite abrasive and battle-hardened. Lucy's people have seen combat together over the years and as a result they're a tight-knit group, but we're not sure how much the prospect of untold wealth will drive a wedge between them. And we're also unsure who can be trusted when things get sticky and they realise that retrieving the gold is the least of their worries.

There's lots of intense action, so Juggernaut is an edge-of-the-seat read and it sustains this pace all the way to the finish. It's over 120 pages in before anything truly weird happens though, when the zombies shamble in. These aren't comedy zombies: they're a new take on the theme of a virally-spread zombie plague. Individually they're not the most menacing of monsters, but they just keep on coming and once bitten there's no saving the victim. Towards the end the sheer numbers of them gets over the top, since the supply of rotten meat never seems to dry up. We are treated to various heroic last stands which wear out the macho martyrdom angle, and there are more than a few mega explosions. I felt like I was reading something that was intended as a script for a Michael Bay film. It's tense and scary, but any depth the story has is drowned out by the chatter of machine guns and the screams of the dead and dying. In spite of their foul mouths and greed I liked Lucy and her gang of mercenaries, and it made a pleasant change to have a female in the kind of role that's usually reserved for pumped-up action men. However this novel unfolds with the inevitability of a movie we've seen before, and after it's hurtled through its plot we're left without much sense of what its point was, aside from the thrill of being scared.

7th February 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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