The horror of genetics run amok rears its ugly head in The Dragon Factory as Nazi clones continue the work of Mengele on the edges of civilization, where they are plotting a new, genetic world order, a world radically remade according to Nazi delusions of genetic purity.
Meanwhile, Joe Ledger, Baltimore ex-cop and defender of the world from a zombie menace in Patient Zero, is about to be arrested by the NSA at the beginning of this high contact action adventure novel, putting a dent in his ability to take on two deadly enemies — the strange, genetically perfect beings known as the Jakoby Twins, and their corrupt father, Cyrus – before the Extinction Clocks runs out.
The Vice President, working under the influence of the sadistic and sexually perverted cream-white twins, has used the President’s coma to try and take down Ledger’s organization, the DMS (Department of Military Sciences), in order to steal Mindreader, a computer algorithm capable of infiltrating any database in the world without leaving a single electronic trace. The twins need it in order to steal genetic engineering secrets locked away in electronic vaults their hacking capabilities cannot pierce.
The plot against the DMS by the Vice President, however, is somewhat of a loose cog inside the plot engine, its action causing the thrill machine to cough and sputter rather than rev up as it starts on a run toward apocalyptic battles, adding nothing to the neo-Nazi plot as far as the tension of the story is concerned: the threat posed by the NSA isn’t very threatening when it comes right down to it — it is hard to imagine two government agencies really taking one another on in a real way. Consequently, the NSA angle is more of a distraction than a real danger for Ledger’s Echo Team and his attempts to evade the NSA come across as half-hearted. Indeed, the NSA’s attempts to take Ledger down as just as flat. It would seem that in the action adventure genre, there is little room for the moral ambiguities inherent in the enemy within motif that the NSA vs. DMS subplot suggests, and, consequently, the inclusion of this subplot reduces the overall thrust of the action.
The main plot, however, is quite good as action adventure entertainment in the tradition of Clive Cussler and James Rollins. Like Rollins’ Sigma Force, Maberrys’ DMS is a clandestine organization chartered to defend against technological monsters and there are more than enough of those to make the action interesting and entertaining.
Maberry writes in a cinematic style that makes the story, once it starts in earnest, as satisfying to a lover of over the top action techno-adventure as a bar of chocolate to a chocolate addict. There is plenty to savor here: the action sprawls continents and the cast of actors is large and fluent in techno-speak, there are genetic monsters and cryptozological wonders, and secret cabals and island hideaways where bad guys plot world destruction; there are plenty of adrenaline-enhanced action sequences, all topped off with some familiar genre tropes, which Maberry wields competently, such as the Nazi specter of the Master Race, Russian Mafia assassins, and the frightening possibilities inherent in a covert genetic manipulation, such as diseases that kill only certain people. This last possibility is most fresh and therefore most frightening part of Maberry’s bag of monsters. Ledger himself is a wounded-hero, of course, adding a semblance of realism to the otherwise Bondesque or comics-like (Maberry has a place at the table at Marvel Comics, where he writes The Black Panther) fantasy. But there is, aside from the action and the monsters, a twinkle of hope in humanity here, too.
One of the Nazi clones develops a conscience and is instrumental in helping Ledger and his team crack the nut of conspiracy threatening the world. But can the DMS organization accept the idea or will the clone be denied its humanity the organization? Maberry works the theme of conscience here in other ways: Cyrus is upset, for example, that his scientists, despite being atheists and receiving conscience-dampening genetic therapy, are still feeling guilt and remorse at the idea of killing billions.
While some devotees of the genre may find The Dragon Factory not as great as Patient Zero, the book still makes for a pleasurable summer read.