#SPFBO The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin-King

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TheLoreThe Lore of Prometheus is one of two books that I decided to read fully out of my second batch of books for the SPFBO competition.  I’m not going to lie, when I picked this up I wasn’t expecting to like it and in fact I felt nervous before starting to read.  Military sci-fi doesn’t really work for me.  At least I didn’t think it worked for me but, apparently, I was wrong and I don’t mind admitting it.  The Lore of Prometheus was a gripping story, well told with persuasive and polished writing and great characters.  I couldn’t put it down to be honest and I was thoroughly entertained.

As the story begins we meet with one of our two main characters, John Carver – John has three rules don’t drink in the daytime, don’t gamble when the luck has gone, and don’t talk to the dead people who come to visit – and he’s currently doing very badly and breaking all three.  Lady Luck has deserted him leaving him high and dry not to mention deeply in debt to a money lender.  He needs to find some work quick sharp in a hurry and so turns to an old colleague from his days as a soldier and makes the tough decision to return to Afghanistan.  Five years ago John and his squad were sent on a mission that went very badly.  The rest of the squad were killed, John was the only survivor and the rumours about how he came out of it alive sound nothing if not far fetched.  Now, suffering from PTSD, survivor guilt and frequently experiencing hallucinations in which his dead squad show up to harass him – the decision to return to a place that left him traumatised and broken has not been an easy one to make, but needs most when the devil vomits into your kettle.  So, off John goes, in a sort of security consultant capacity, back to Kabul.  One thing he needs to make sure of is to keep his identity under wraps – not an easy thing when it seems that somebody is monitoring his progress.

We then meet up with Mackenzie Cartwright, an ex nurse originally from Australia who has been undertaking humanitarian work overseas.  Mackenzie is about to be thrown into the deep end and we the readers are going to be thrown in along with her.  She awakens in a dark room, restrained, naked and with no idea where she is or why.  Things go downhill from here on out.  Mackenzie has been abducted and the reason why becomes clear quite quickly.  The people who she has been ‘sold’ to are undertaking research – in a very ruthless fashion and with a total no holds barred torturous and unscrupulous way.  Wow, did GAK put this character through the wringer.  But, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t gratuitous or overly explicit, and it also isn’t sexual, the nudity being more a means to inflict psychological damage, but you’re very aware of the deprivation, starvation and horrors that the character goes through. There is reasoning behind it, of course, as far as the researchers are concerned at least – but I’m not going to go into any of that here.  Basically, the path of these two characters will eventually cross, but that’s about as much as I’m prepared to tell you about the plot.

So, what really worked well for me with this.  The writing was very good.  I said above that it’s polished and on top of that the research just feels thorough – to be clear, I haven’t the slightest idea of how on point it all really is because I don’t have that sort of knowledge but it all comes across as reasonable and in some respects the author totally got inside my head – answering questions that popped into it almost as quickly as I thought them up.  The pacing is impressive.  The book gets off to an excellent start and from there onwards the momentum never falters.  Which isn’t to say this is all drama and action, just that the story unfolds really well and it feels as though there is never a dull moment.

The world building is also well done with descriptions easily calling to mind the heat and dust, the flashbacks also add more detail when we witness glimpses from John’s past and in particular the events when all his squad were killed.  I suppose in some respects this was an easy place to bring to mind but even so I have to hand it to the author for not over elaborating on things.  Drawing an outline and knowing when to stop is sometimes difficult but I think it’s very well done here.

I also really liked the two main characters and enjoyed reading their alternating chapters.  I never experienced that feeling of annoyance that you sometimes feel going from a POV that you’re really loving to another character who you find a bit dull.  Carter has some snarky lines that managed to inject a little humour and MacKenzie takes us through the gamut of emotions as she experiences them and eventually comes full circle.  I liked both of them I have to say and so kudos to the author for getting two characters so spot on that I was sitting on the edge of my seat whenever they were given page time.

In terms of the ‘fantasy’ elements.  I don’t want to give too much away but the main thrust of the story revolves around untapped potential and the research in question is being used to break down barriers in the mind in order to open up multitudes of possibility.  There isn’t a great deal of explanation about what’s really going on but in fairness I don’t really think there needs to be.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the only real issue I had, and it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker, was the ‘baddie’ of the piece.  Okay, I do understand his motivations but he comes across a little flat.  He feels like a machiavellian character who should be twirling his waxed moustache whilst tying a (naked) damsel in distress to a frame in a dark room – just because he can.  There’s also something of a Bond film feel in terms of the research facility that goes deep underground.  To be fair though, in spite of these issues, and in fact maybe because of them, I couldn’t help thinking this would make a great adaptation to screen.

Overall, I had a thoroughly good time with this book.  It was entertaining, it was gripping, it had tension and horror and it concluded in a spectacularly flashy fashion that felt entirely appropriate.  This was very easy to read, it turned around my feelings towards military style sff and in fact surpassed my expectations.  Go figure – it seems I’ve been missing a whole area of reading that I would probably enjoy.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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