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MJ-12: Shadows by Michael J. Martinez

MJ-12: Shadows by Michael J. Martinez
4.75
Book Name: MJ-12: Shadows
Author: Michael J. Martinez
Publisher(s): Night Shade Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy / Thriller
Release Date: September 5, 2017 (US) September 22, 2017 (UK)

Following an outstanding start to his new superhero spy series with last year’s MJ-12: Inception, Michael J. Martinez is back to continue the thrilling adventure with MJ-12: Shadows—and it’s a belter.

The Official Blurb

It’s 1949, and the Cold War is heating up across the world. For the United States, the key to winning might be Variants?once ordinary US citizens, now imbued with strange paranormal abilities and corralled into covert service by the government’s top secret MAJESTIC-12 program.

Some Variants are testing the murky international waters in Syria, while others are back at home, fighting to stay ahead of a political power struggle in Washington. And back at Area 51, the operation’s headquarters, the next wave of recruits is anxiously awaiting their first mission. All the while, dangerous figures flit among the shadows and it’s unclear whether they are threatening to expose the Variants for what they are . . . or to completely destroy them. Are they working for the Soviet Union, or something far worse?

The Good News

As with any new fantastical series, the first book bears the brunt of a certain amount of scene setting, world building and character introducing. While MJ-12: Inception did a marvellous job of all of this—especially considering the sizeable cast of protagonists to follow from the start—the effortlessly slick way in which the sequel gets started is a joy to behold. So good, in fact, that it makes you wonder why all sequels can’t be this good when they’re not burdened with the responsibility of setting things up.

Straight out of the Mission: Impossible playbook, Shadows pulls you into the action in the midst of an operation in Vienna as our team of super spies recruits a new member. The caper itself is great fun, but what I enjoyed more was the return of the back and forth between mission-focused Danny, God-fearing Cal, and the still uncontrollable Maggie, highlighting the strengthening of their relationships since we last saw them.

Thankfully the grizzled Frank is back too, using the voices of the dead to keep his team alive. And although he is arguably still the lead protagonist, at this point the cast is so rich and finely drawn that it doesn’t really matter. Martinez is a maestro with voice, and once again (his last series was a masterclass on it) I experienced that old cliché of catching up with old friends and it not feeling like you’ve been away from each other. (Even if these happen to be friends who can suck the life out of you or make you wet your pants with fear.)

As you’d hope from this kind of book, we’re also introduced to new Variants on both sides of the escalating Cold War—new heroes, new villains, and new super powers. And while not even these paranormal abilities can prevent the situation in Syria from deteriorating beyond anybody’s control (which sadly seems just as accurate today), they really come to the fore in an exciting climax in Kazakhstan, complete with a ticking time bomb and a couple of surprising moments.

I mentioned in my review for the first book that it moved at a fair pace, but jumped around a little much at first. With MJ-12: Shadows the pace is still there, but we have a narrower focus—with the US government’s manipulation of events in Syria getting the majority of story time, pausing only to return to America for some troubling matters at Area 51. This more streamlined approach makes for a far smoother ride. More importantly, it’s also seemingly given the author a chance to spend more time on the finer details of the historic period he’s weaving the fictional elements through.

There has been meticulous research here to conjure up a very real setting to the story. One moment I’m witnessing the rather fantastical fate of an important player in the book, the next I discover all the facts are accurate and I’m compelled to go off and read about his real life. All while being unable to shake the feeling Martinez has found some secret documents and simply filled the gaps in the historical record. In fact, by the end it’s a little difficult to forget that MJ-12: Shadows is fictional.

OR IS IT?

The Bad News

I always like to try and pick at a story to identify what I think could be improved. Here I’m afraid there’s not much to say, as everything that worked in the first book has been bettered. We may be missing the interesting shades of grey of a character like Ellis (the racist ‘bad guy’ with heart who just wanted to get back to his wife and kids), but that’s offset by the far more intense political shades of grey in the plot.

To be honest, my only real gripe—as with the first—was that I’m left wanting more. A lot of plot threads have been tied up here, only for others to have been pulled loose and left dangling. Which is absolutely fine as part of an overall arc, yet feels a little at odds with the Mission: Impossible style where each story works as a standalone. (Basically, I just want to know more about the mysterious vortex and it pains me to have to wait until the next book.)

Conclusion

MJ-12: Shadows is a blast of a read. It takes a narrower plot focus than the first and strengthens our relationship with the main heroes, while simultaneously introducing a whole host of new characters and superpowers—and weaves it all through some fascinating, disturbing, but apparently pretty accurate moments in history. From beginning to end it’s a fun, inventive, action-packed exploration of super spies operating in the shadows of history, and an almost perfect sequel.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
MJ-12: Shadows by Michael J. Martinez, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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