In a lawless region of the world, nestled in an inhospitable mountain pass in central Asia, a warlord dominates. Sala Jihan is his name, and the area is known as The Crossroads.
While various factions are allowed to operate in the area under his purview, Sala Jihan remains the undisputed king, overseeing his mining operation with a large number of enslaved workers. An army of enthralled soldiers are at his disposal, including the mysterious and seemingly invincible Brothers, elite men who fight like demons. Exodus, a global network of fanatical warriors, has set their sights on Jihan, and intend to wipe his scourge from the face of the Earth.
It is into this struggle that Lorenzo, an accomplished mercenary, is recruited. Brought out of pseudo-retirement, he and his tried-and-true tech buddy Reaper and his girlfriend Jill (herself a competent fighter) are contacted by Exodus and asked to participate in the strike against Jihan. Normally rue to get back into that world, Lorenzo is compelled to join when he learns that his brother Bob, a federal agent, has gone missing in The Crossroads. Lorenzo gathers his team and equipment, but first they must rescue an old acquaintance: Valentine.
Michael Valentine is also a former mercenary, held in captivity by a shadowy arm of the US government. He is of value to both them and Exodus for what he may know about Project Blue, a program many wish to know about but few actually do. Whether or not Valentine will be of any help elucidating the facts behind Project Blue remains to be seen, though his value as a fighter make him worth the trouble. Lorenzo has no particular love for the man, so it is an uneasy arrangement in all aspects. Once Valentine joins the action, the story really takes off.
Swords of Exodus is a sequel to Dead Six, an excellent action-adventure novel in its own right. Both books follow the same formula, trading perspectives between their two protagonists as they weave their way through the story. It is not an easy technique to pull off, and as the series goes, Swords sometimes falls short of the standard set by its predecessor. It remains a very good adventure, and is well worth the attention of fans of Dead Six; however, the balance between Lorenzo and Valentine isn’t as exact this time around. Lorenzo seems to receive more attention in this story, with Valentine more of a hapless participant by proxy than a motivated adherent. While it makes sense contextually, returning readers may be slightly disappointed by it.
There are many other aspects that help make up for this. For one, Lorenzo continues to be a fascinating and entertaining anti-hero, and one of the best action-adventure characters ever conceived. Like Correia’s other notable protagonists, he is a lot of fun to follow and does not disappoint. Valentine’s sections are well-written and add a critical perspective to the narrative, and his introspection helps to provide contrast to Lorenzo’s gonzo (though often cynical) attitude. Both authors do an excellent job of illustrating the world of the story, and The Crossroads in particular comes alive vividly.
Another positive aspect is character development. Lorenzo and Valentine are fleshed out in more depth, with more details from their past revealed including interesting tidbits from the events in Dead Six. While adding a lot to the story, neither author dwells on it to the point of slowing down the narrative. Each man becomes more human in the eyes of the reader, even as they’re surrounded by inhuman chaos.
Also carrying over from the first novel are the action sequences. Correia and Kupari outdo themselves again. They are taut at the same time they’re relentless, described with just the right amount of detail to be exciting and rewarding. As usual, some scenes are depicted with a sanguine, cringe-worthy edge, which might dissuade the casual reader if they happened upon this novel randomly but are right at home regardless. Valentine’s handiwork with his S&W 629 .44 Magnum revolver is the most obvious example of this.
Overall, Swords of Exodus has a different tone than Dead Six. It is more of a slow burn, more contemplative, with a slightly more meandering pace. For returning fans, it should be well-received, but in a microcosm, it might not be as popular as its predecessor. One common aspect for a sequel is to raise the stakes, and in this case, while the mission is extremely important to Exodus, the involvement of the protagonists does not feel as critical as before. Also, as previously mentioned, Valentine’s participation leaves something to be desired, an aspect that one hopes will be addressed in Project Blue, the upcoming third addition to the series. Also in that regard, Swords is very much a middle story, leaving a great deal unresolved. However, it serves only to make the third book more compelling, and hopefully we won’t have too long to wait for it.