This review originally appeared at Fantasy-Faction.com.
This review contains spoilers for Gemini Cell. Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the first book. You can find Fantasy-Faction’s review for Gemini Cell here.
Javelin Rain, Myke Cole’s sequel to Gemini Cell, may be the least hopeful book I’ve ever read.
It wasn’t until the final pages, when protagonist Jim Schweitzer hints at the action he will take moving forward, that I thought that maybe, just maybe, Cole actually wasn’t writing a series in which everyone dies and Jim Schweitzer’s story ends in misery and despair. Even in a world in which magic exists and the dead can be brought back to life, Myke Cole’s pull-no-punches storytelling style convinced me there were no positive outcomes available for Schweitzer, his wife and his young son.
If this sounds overly dramatic, I can sympathize. I would have said the same before I read the books.
Gemini Cell introduced us to Schweitzer, a highly-trained Navy SEAL, and his family. Shortly after latest mission, Schweitzer returns home to the wife and child he sees all too rarely. But his return home takes an awful turn when his enemies find him and kill him, even as he battles to save his wife and son.
But death proves just the beginning for Schweitzer, as Gemini Cell resurrects him as the ultimate warrior, an undead juggernaut with an ancient, battle-hungry and completely insane jinn residing inside his now-animated corpse. Schweitzer represents the Gemini Cell’s greatest success, its first pairing of a jinn with a trained, thoughtful special operator retaining at least some control.
But Gemini Cell makes a mistake when it lies to Schweitzer and tells him his family was murdered in the same attack that killed him. When he discovers the truth, he breaks free from Gemini Cell’s control and returns to his family, desperate to defend them against a Gemini Cell that now has them in its crosshairs as well.
Cole doesn’t just acknowledge all the difficulties inherent to Schweitzer’s situation, but he actively dives into them, exploring the bonds of family and what it means to be human through Schweitzer and his family. From the moment they are reunited, it’s clear that the undead Schweitzer can no longer be a husband to his wife, Sarah, or a father to their son, Patrick. With an undead, zombie-like body pumped full of embalming chemicals, mechanical prosthetics, and nothing but the remains of his former face, Schweitzer isn’t exactly the sort of hero who earns warm embraces, even from his family.
Schweitzer’s relationship with his son is especially strained. Overseas missions kept him away from Patrick for much of his son’s life, and now, returning as a half-dead monster shortly after his son saw him murdered in their home only strains the relationship further. Patrick is too young to understand what is happening, and as Gemini Cell’s jinn-fueled monsters chase the Schweitzers down, even Schweitzer sees that if his traumatized son survives, he likely will have a lifetime of therapy ahead of him.
Cole doesn’t shy away from Jim Schweitzer’s struggles to relate to his family now that he’s dead, from his frustration at their slow pace to their need for basic necessities such as food, water and rest. There’s an especially crushing scene when Schweitzer hands his son a can of beans to eat and belatedly realizes that small children don’t especially like beans, and certainly don’t want to eat them cold from a can.
With each scene, it becomes more and more clear that even if Schweitzer were to kill the entire Gemini Cell, he has no future alongside his family, at least not in the half-live, half-dead existence he currently occupies. Slowly but inevitably, he’s losing his humanity, his connection to the living world, and as the process continues, it becomes harder and harder to imagine a happy ending for the Schweitzers.
In addition to Schweitzer’s point of view, readers are introduced to the action through a number of characters still inside the Gemini Cell compound – Jawid, the Muslim sorcerer who brought Schweitzer back to life; Dadou Alva, a Haitian sorcerer with a dark past brought in to keep Jawid under control; and Eldredge, the Gemini Cell scientist who has come to doubt the program since Schweitzer escaped. All three are dealing with their own fears, either of the Gemini Cell itself, or, in Dadou’s case, the past. Dadou proves an especially interesting character, someone you can’t help but sympathize with, even as you hate her.
Jawid is far more problematic. The only character who demonstrates any religious belief in the book, Jawid’s Muslim faith makes him a pawn for the Gemini Cell and especially for Dadou, who manipulates his attraction for her with ridiculous ease. In Jawid’s point-of-view moments, you can’t help but pity him and his childlike naiveté regarding the world around him. In a book in which almost every character is intelligent and determined, Jawid is a clear exception.
Nonetheless, Javelin Rain represents the next step in Cole’s progression as an author, a heartfelt, action-packed military fantasy that punches readers in the guts and takes their breath away. Somehow, in writing about an undead Navy SEAL fighting other undead warriors, Cole has found a way to explore what makes us tick – as people, as members of a family, and as part of a society.
Cole doesn’t spend much time recapping the events of Gemini Cell, so new readers should definitely read the prequel first, and it wouldn’t hurt to read the previously published Shadow Ops books as well – Control Point, Fortress Frontier and Breach Zone – though it isn’t strictly necessary, as Schweitzer’s story is itself a prequel to the events in those novels.
But be warned – nothing you read in the four previous books will prepare you for the depths Cole explores in Javelin Rain.