Review: “Return of the Phoenix,” Heath Stallcup

Pros: Standard but decent storyline and a couple of decent characters
Cons: Slapstick humor bits; inappropriate humor bits; forced humor bits; writing so-so
Rating: 2 out of 5

Heath Stallcup’s Return of the Phoenix: A Monster Squad Novel (Volume 1) is one of those novels that seems so-so when you’re reading it, and then suffers more when you look back on it.

The “Monster Squad” series is about a government program to develop super-soldiers who spend their time fighting the hidden supernatural enemies–vamps, werewolves, trolls, zombies (although those don’t show up in this novel) etc. It’s a little weird, because most of the novels I’ve seen with this plot frame have been urban fantasy/romance novels, which have a specific feel to them. This had much more the feel of, well, non-romance urban fantasy. Although it still has the standard werewolf one-true-mate trope, and it does have some sex in it.

Rather than having one or two major ‘this didn’t work for me’ bits (other than the sense of humor, which I’ll get to in a minute), there were a lot of little things. It’s easiest just to say that the writing quality wasn’t very good. Characters lacked believable depth, or were ridiculous in their behaviors; characters’ plans had holes in them; the book ended at an annoying place; etc. One (military) character, upon being captured by the enemy, volunteered an amazing amount of sensitive information before they even asked him about anything, yet didn’t even seem to realize it.

The sense of humor also had a lot of little problems rather than one big one. Sometimes it’s forced and over the top. Sometimes it’s slapstick. Sometimes it seems rather inappropriate (there’s a plot involving setting up a homophobic, ranting politician for blackmail involving a transsexual–without going into the whole thing, I’ll just say that I think a number of people would find the way it was carried out to be offensive).

On the whole, I think there are enough books that fit any of a number of the aspects of this one, but are written better, that you might as well not settle.

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