As with my last review subject, if you’re in the market for Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter: Nemesis, you probably already know you’re going to like it. Though maybe not as much as the previous Monster Hunter outings; the author tries for a change of tone in this book, not entirely successfully.
Up to now, the Monster Hunter books have been an entertaining blend of action comedy, gun porn, and horror – more or less the A-Team meets the X-Files, with vaguely Lovecraftian premises implied but played for rough humor rather than cosmic tragedy. They worked well enough on all these levels to be best-sellers – not Great Literature, but I’ll take honest genre craftsmanship like this over the kind of pretentious bilge that usually issues from art-for-art’s-sake posturing any day.
In this book the viewpoint shifts from the familiar Monster Hunter International characters to Agent Franks, the enigmatic Man In Black and top agent of the government’s Monster Control Bureau. We get Franks’s personal back-story; in the process, Correia pulls aside the veil a bit on what’s really going on in the Monster Hunter universe.
Correia has shown that he’s capable of writing more serious stuff in his Grimnoir Chronicles, which this book resembles as much as it does its direct prequels. His writing ability doesn’t fail him – making an even distantly sympathetic character out of Franks is no mean feat – but the reveals about Correia’s worldbuilding left me with a disappointed “Huh? That’s all you’ve got?” feeling. The Grimnoir Chronicles were, in this way, much better constructed.
I won’t reveal details because the book is not so botched that it deserves to be spoilerized, but I will observe that Lovecraftian and Miltonic themes don’t really mix. Also that there are logical implications from a premise that all human souls have existed from the beginning of time that are obvious, that Correia never engages, but – given what else is going on – really ought to have.
Maybe it’s time for the Monster Hunter sequence to die, staked and silvered like so many of its unnatural antagonists. I think there’s life in the characters yet, but the setting is in trouble; Correia seems to me to have painted himself into a corner that he’s only going to get out of by ignoring the problems or pulling some pretty serious retcons.
I think one of the lessons here is something I learned writing for Battle For Wesnoth; for certain kinds of serial fictional settings, writing a final level of explanation of What’s Really Going On is a bad idea – it’s not necessary to what your story is doing, and it closes off too many possibilities for future episodes. I think Correia has made that error here.
Still, if you liked the prequels, you’ll probably enjoy this well enough. Villains scheme, heroes struggle, stuff blows up a lot. Franks – of all not-quite-people – gets some character development. It remains to be seen whether the next book has anywhere interesting to go.