Review: “Relentless Savage,” Dave Edlund

Pros: Pacing picks up toward the end
Cons: Where do I start?
Rating: 2 out of 5

Review ebook provided free by publisher via NetGalley.

 

Relentless Savage is book two of Dave Edlund’s Peter Savage series. I haven’t read book one, but I found this one stood well enough on its own.

Peter Savage’s son, Ethan, is volunteering at a refugee camp in Darfur when he and his fellow volunteers are taken captive. Peter is bound and determined to go rescue Ethan himself, calling in a few favors along the way. He sets off with a couple of fellow hunters while an old friend of his tries to arrange some backup for them. Soon they find they’re not just fighting local warlords–there’s a contingent of Chinese soldiers augmented with several savage, extraordinary ‘beasts’–humans who look more Neanderthal than modern man. This leads them to realize that there’s someone carrying out horrific genetic experimentation nearby, and the search for Ethan becomes something much larger.

 

When I read books that I plan to review, I take notes. Usually the better the book the fewer the notes that I take because I’m too absorbed in what I’m reading. It’s the not-so-great books that get a full page of notes. Or in this case, three full pages. Around the 50% mark I started taking fewer notes just because I’d already covered almost everything.

First, there’s an infodump problem in Relentless Savage. It contains some very transparent lectures done up as dialogue or monologue, or just plain dropped into the description. This is related to another problem: the author does not assume any intelligence on the part of the reader. He explains every little thing, sometimes multiple times, most of them things that he could have briefly shown instead (or left out entirely as unnecessary). As one small example, “Both researchers bowed, indicating their obedience.” Chop off that sentence after ‘bowed’ and you’re good to go–readers are capable of filling in what it means. Random paragraphs of background about various things and people get tossed into the middle of otherwise action-oriented scenes. We don’t need that much information on each character. What we need is just a small key to understanding each one as a separate person, and it’s much better to show that with a quick quip, physical tic, use of skill, habit, snippet of dialogue, piece of action, etc. You know you’re in trouble when someone says, “I know you both know this, but I’ll say it anyway.”

Next, we have characterization issues. Peter is the male equivalent of a Mary Sue: everyone admires him and throws whatever he needs at his feet. He was asked to lead a group of local fighters into action for no better reason than that he seemed like a leader, even though he lacks any military training, and even though he had just met the person who asked him for this. “Here, let me throw my army at your feet! You’d be doing me a favor!” (My translation, not actual dialogue.) Most the American military characters we see later on have one-note personalities. The bad guys are worse; I think they’d be half-note personalities. The Chinese bad guy is the epitome of the evil mad scientist, right down to the part where he explains all of his evil plans to the good guys. Also, non-white non-Americans don’t fare so well in this book. They fall into several main categories. Good locals who owe everything to the white people who helped them. Chinese madmen. Chinese non-madmen who are far less effective at their jobs than the Americans are. A local fighter who often had the feel of a sidekick in how the author portrayed him. Local fighters who are apparently ineffective unless you lob a no-military-background white guy at them to lead them, and who need to be watched over by their superior American “guardian angels”.

Third, details don’t add up right on a regular basis, and there are some bizarre word constructions. The human/Neanderthal cross-breeds (“Homothals”) regress mentally to the point where they can’t speak, and yet we’re told they’ve exhibited above-average tactical skills. When Ethan grows up on the battlefied, we’re told he has emerged from his ‘cocoon of youth’. That’s a phrase that belongs in a sci-fi book of an entirely different kind.

While there was plenty of action in the latter half of the book–which did help to pull me in for a bit–it felt like it went on forever, with most of the same types of actions and injuries happening repeatedly. I started to get a bit bored with it, which shouldn’t have happened.

I’ve left a lot of examples out in the interests of not nit-picking, and tried to stick to a few examples of larger themes. If you’re the kind of reader who doesn’t notice infodumps or skimpy characters, then you might like this book. Certainly not everyone cares about such things. But if those are the sorts of things that drive you nuts, this isn’t the book for you.

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