The Lore of Prometheus by Graham Austin King
Graham Austin-King knows how to challenge conventions with his storytelling. He’s not afraid to write about uncomfortable themes and the depravity of human nature. His last novel Faithless was an absolutely fantastic read centered around a subterranean dungeon based society. It was a dark claustrophobic nightmare of a book.
I was sent an advance reading copy of Graham’s newest novel The Lore of Prometheus, and I flew through it in just a few days at the edge of my seat throughout. There’s really no better way to describe this book than to call it a wild ride. Austin-King’s fast paced book with a perfect balance of character and plot based narrative is the most fun I’ve ever had reading a story about torture and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The novel revolves around two main POVS. John Carver, Ex military with a gambling addiction tells his first person tale which includes a tragic episode from his time in Afghanistan that has caused a great deal of darkness in his life. Carver has basically hit rock bottom... and to top it off, he sees dead people, particularly his fallen mates from the military. John gets an opportunity to escape a creditor that’s gunning for him and turn his life around which finds him once again in Afghanistan working as a double agent.
Mackenzie Cartwright, a frontline military nurse begins her story told in the third person, captive in a strange cell, undergoing a series of gruelling and torturous tests. Word has gotten out about an incident from her childhood that has made her a subject of great interest to her mysterious captors.
Without spoiling the plot, both John and Mackenzie have a secret from their past relating to a special gift they possess that makes the two a commodity to a businessman and former drug lord, and for better or for worse they find themselves in a nightmare of twisted eugenics style testing and torture.
While reading LOP i felt a very strong cinematic influence. Unlike Austin-King’s other novels, it would be difficult to fully classify it as Fantasy despite dealing somewhat with magic. To me, it hovered in the realm of urban fantasy, science fiction and psychological espionage thriller. At times I’d even go as far as saying it was the love child of “Saw” and “X-Men”, with some amazing well-choreographed action and super-heroics, combined with disturbingly vivid torture.
What set the novel apart from a typical beach read was the character moments and the intensity of the back stories. Both John and Mackenzie suffered trauma that caused them to be psychologically damaged. Austin-King, through the use of John Carver’s POV really gets inside the mind of a soldier who through seeing a great deal of casualties and having had to kill, is struggling to come to grips with his hardened feelings about death and his own survivor’s guilt, while Mackenzie’s dark childhood secret is similarly haunting, and the book spends a fair amount of time in inner monologue mode. There is also a unique correlation between the gifts the MCs possess and their trauma which offers a cryptic spin on the concept of magic.
While the book deals with dark themes, and much like Austin-King’s other novels sets a tone of desperation and discomfort for its protagonists, it is not without its lighter moments, while there is not a huge emphasis on romance, there are a few cathartic moments that allow for a break in the clouds and the interaction between Carver and his squad (hallucinations or something more) is often quite funny and in excellent taste. Think “A Beautiful Mind” before the insanity kicks in.
I’m not sure if Graham Austin-King is planning a sequel for Prometheus, but I would definitely welcome one. He’s created a new exciting world where magic is rare and powerful people will do the unthinkable to gain access to it. He’s taken us inside the minds of trauma sufferers and makes us genuinely feel for them all the while cheering for them as they kick ass with style. I have no doubt that Graham Austin-King fans that loved Faithless will warm quickly to Carver and Mackenzie, and I suspect he’ll obtain many new fans with this amazing work.
Michael Gruneir - 8.7/10
Things just haven’t been right for John Carver since his last deployment. That time when everything turned to shit but he walked out the sole survivor, the ‘Miracle of Kabul’. Especially since it heralded the arrival of his new companions: the dead. His former teammates are far from happy with their new circumstances and are more than willing to tell him about it. Repeatedly. The fact that they’re supposed to be six feet under hasn’t stopped them from hanging around sporting seriously bad attitudes. Now PTSD hits hard, but this is a whole new level, and Carver is barely getting by. When he reaches rock bottom, in desperate need of some funds before his loan shark calls in his debt with extreme prejudice, he has no choice but to head back out to the place that haunts both his dreams and his day alike. Taking a high-paid job as a security consultant can’t be that bad, right? Even if it’s in Afghanistan. Even if it brings back all kinds of bad memories. And it really isn’t terrible, until he’s kidnapped….
First off, this was nothing like what I expected. I imagined it following that usual UF format: a person finds out they have magic, fights other supernatural creatures, a bit of danger, a bit of comedy, all is good with the world, the End. Instead, this is a thriller with a hefty splash of magic, but more than that, it’s a book about personal demons, PTSD, tragedy, and what it means to be broken. More real world than a fantasy world, the plot doesn’t stretch far from the chilling history of experimentation on humans. It’s a tale rooted in darkest aspects of humanity, immoral researchers willing to do anything to awaken magic in their captured subjects, such powers only emerging from shattered minds twisted with anger and despair. It’s somewhat balanced by a black humour, but even that walks the jagged line between sanity and madness. So much of what happens, of what Carver sees and feels, could be the result of his PTSD. The details of this disorder are so effectively embedded in the plot that when the boundaries of reality are stretched, it seems almost possible. Everything about him as a character grounds the supernatural in his malfunctioning life. On top of that, his first-person narrative and devil may care attitude are immediately appealing, he’s not only down on his luck, he’s right out of it. But that’s not going to stop him back chatting his jailers and generally being a serious pain in their collective arses. Oh you know he’s going to cause some trouble…
But Carver isn’t the only one dragged into this Hell. An Australian nurse, Mackenzie, provides the alternate voice through which the story is told. Even though it switches to the third person for her sections, it is no less immediate, no less affecting. Being a woman only heightened my connection to her, stripped naked and vulnerable to some rigged up contraption in a dungeon. Traumatised and physically wrecked by her experience, this is her trial by fire. She is pushed to her very limits, forced by the ever-increasing torments of her captors to reach that point where she cracks, where she lets go of reality and breaks through to that part of her where the magic hides. But while she might be beaten down, she is never weak. When her time comes, that moment she gets to push back, it is a joy to behold. And boy do they ever regret unleashing her. I think I may have cheered aloud: burn their whole world down, love, they deserve the flames.
So you can, perhaps, tell I got a bit involved. The finale was a veritable explosion of justice and I loved it. It’s high action, bloody, and more than a little fun. Even as I was reading it I was imagining how awesome it would be as a film. The whole thing came as a surprise, but that’s only one of the reasons I won’t forget it. It’s the kind of genre-bending, intensely fresh feeling book that successfully integrates deeper themes and a setting that’s wonderfully far away from the norm. I’m hoping there’s more to come, I’d read the hell of a series like this. If you’re looking for something different, that still has heart and one hell of a punch, put this on your TBR. You won’t regret it.
ARC via author.
Emma Davis - 8.5/10
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