“Is it still considered a miracle if it comes from the devil?” – Lorenzo
In a war where governments and corporations are vaguely defined entities, each with their own agenda and means, the foot soldiers are left to fight and die for those ends. Sometimes, though, that same separation from the true masterminds can lead to a certain level of autonomy – a freedom that allows those on the lowest level of the conflict to follow their own convictions, grudges, and even vengeance.
DEAD SIX is an unusual novel not due to the fact that it is a collaboration between two authors, but because Correia and Kupari each take the voice of the two warring protagonists, Lorenzo and Valentine, respectively. These characters are exceptionally well defined as a result, and as each side in the bitter conflict is presented, Valentine and Lorenzo’s personalities, quirks, and senses of humor are allowed to come out naturally.
The fictitious middle eastern country of Zubara is the setting for the story. Political upheavals threaten a coup, and mysterious forces from abroad seek to forward the chaos for their own gain. Valentine is an international soldier of fortune (put simply), out of the action due to a failed mission in Mexico some years earlier, who is drawn into the new conflict by an old comrade and the promise of a lucrative paycheck. Although surrounded by several competent professionals, he soon finds himself in a losing battle that was very likely waged for all the wrong reasons in the first place. Even worse, he becomes romantically attached to one of the translators/commo officers from his support structure, an affection that is both rewarding and dangerous. It soon becomes obvious that a particular organization is involved with the opposition, and several run-ins with their operatives set the stage for the two protagonists’ rivalry.
Lorenzo is a career criminal, well skilled in the arts of combat and impersonation. Initially portrayed as a calm, morally inert professional, he is soon more specifically defined as a real person with a human side, and his own believable if limited sense of ethics. Forced into the mission by his old boss Big Eddie, the enigmatic leader of an international crime syndicate, Lorenzo applies his unique skills to the challenging but uninvited mission.
Both Valentine and Lorenzo are reminiscent of iconic heroes and anti-heroes throughout western film and literature, most notably in my mind akin to John Kelly from Clancy’s Without Remorse and John Smith from Last Man Standing (and Yojimbo before it). They are able to take a tremendous beating and forge ahead by pure force of will and determination. It’s the only way they can survive the action, of which there is plenty.
DEAD SIX is of course at its heart an action-adventure novel, and it may well become the new paradigm for the genre. Correia and Kupari are firearms experts, and Mike applies his extensive knowledge of military tactics and procedures to his portions of the story. The result is an unusually detailed narrative with subtle points that will both satisfy and amuse those readers who are discerning enough to appreciate them. I found the mention of a “notional airstrip,” for example, to be particularly humorous, and there were many other instances of dry humor that might be easily missed if one were to read this book too casually.
At over 700 pages, DEAD SIX manages to keep the story fresh and interesting throughout. Mysteries are discovered and solved, but not always, and the novel ends with some unresolved issues and begs the creation of a sequel at some point, which I wholeheartedly hope will come around soon. With Correia wholly involved in his amazingly successful Monster Hunter and Hard Magic series, and Kupari up to his eyeballs in UXO and other nastiness in Afghanistan, I wouldn’t expect a follow-up novel any time soon, and that’s ultimately one of the few downsides to this fun, exciting, and entertaining story.
On a technical level, there isn’t much to complain about here. A critical reader might find the skill level of the protagonists to be pushing it as far as realism, but I would keep in mind that these characters have been living and breathing this life for years, and represent those rare individuals who have long since accepted the possibility of dying and are able to focus on the mission to the extent of all else. I also found the genesis of the romantic relationships in the story to be trite at first, but I was ultimately satisfied in how it affected the plot and the motivations of the protagonists.
If you’re a fan of Tom Clancy or Correia’s Monster Hunter series, you will not be disappointed. 5/5 stars.