With Tale of the Thunderbolt, E.E. Knight spins another entertaining story in his Vampire Earth universe, chronicling the life and time of David Valentine. This time around, Valentine is an undercover spy as a Coastal Marine serving the Kurians, on a mission to acquire a rumored ultimate weapon to use against the Kurians and their Reaper underlings. The titular Thunderbolt is a large oceanic military vessel Valentine plans on taking over in order to acquire the aforementioned weapon on the island of Jamaica. Like the previous two novels in the series, the pacing is brisk and the pages turn rather quickly. However, Tale of the Thunderbolt is a bit different than the previous installments, at least in setting because Knight reveals a part of apocalyptic world the Kurians have created, beyond the borders of the United States – the islands of the Caribbean.
In a nutshell, readers who haven’t read previous volumes in the series need only know that Vampire Aliens have taken over the world, using humans both as slaves and food in their conquest to complete their overthrow of humanity. Sounds rather high-concept, but Knight makes it work very well. His Web site http://www.vampireearth.com provides a lot of background for the current state of the world he’s created. Trying to encapsulate the background of the story brings me to one of the strengths of this novel – how well Knight integrates the “history” of the past two novels throughout the course of the narrative of Thunderbolt. This has a two-fold benefit, one of which allows readers new to the series to not be lost upon opening Tale of the Thunderbolt. Secondly, this background is a nice refresher for readers who have been reading the books about once per year, as they are published. Knight does this interweaving of the past without slowing down or hampering the overall pace of the story.
On the whole, this was a fun, entertaining read. One thing clearly evident is how much fun Knight is having writing this series and creating this world. One of the premises he has set up is that the Kurians and Lifeweavers have the ability to manipulate DNA and churn out monsters and weird creatures. With this ability in hand, in the previous novels, Knight introduced the monstrous Grogs, the genetically altered powerhouse grunts in the Kurian army. In Thunderbolt, Knight introduces more genetically altered beasties. This aspect of the storyline, the DNA manipulation, lends the story to the science fiction genre, but allows for creatures normally associated with either fantasy or horror to come to life in the Vampire Earth milieu. This is another great example of Knight taking of the separate branches of speculative fiction and churning out a world that, while entertaining and fun to read about, would be hellish to live in.
The only slight negative against the book is the pacing on this one compared to the previous two books in the series. The flow of the plot is not as smooth as the earlier two books, and while Way of the Wolf was more episodic in nature, it still maintained a smoother narrative flow. Also, and this is more so a warning of sorts for the series – thus far, protagonist David Valentine has been very engaging and handled the cards he was dealt quite well. The only reservation is that I hope he does not become too much of a superman, whereby he is always one step ahead of his enemies and always wins the attention, so to speak, of the attractive women. This hasn’t happened yet, but this is a pitfall lesser writers can fall into as they continue to pen tales of their heroes.
After a long adventure, David’s story in Tale of the Thunderbolt ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, leaving you rapt with anticipation for the next volume. The clock is ticking, book four, Valentine’s Rising publishes in December 2005. It was somewhat frustrating, but on the whole, Knight’s ending served the greater story very well. I would recommend this to people looking for something entertaining and fast paced, even if they haven’t read the previous books. If you have read the earlier two novels, you will probably be picking up Tale of the Thunderbolt anyway. From beginning to end, Tale of the Thunderbolt is an entertaining romp rife with plausible characters; powerful, frightening villains; suspense; romance; and monsters. So, in other words it has pretty much everything good fantasy and science fiction should have.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford
Author Web site: http://www.vampireearth.com