Round two of Owen Pitt vs. the Old Ones/Elder Gods/Creepy Extradimensional Squid Monsters. Fight.
Monster Hunter Vendetta continues the storyline from the first book in the series. This time instead of rushing to stop the shadowy Lord Machado from opening a portal to the realm of the Elder Gods, Owen must stop a shadowy English necromancer from opening a portal to the realm of the Elder Gods. It sounds very similar, I know, but there are some important differences—in this case, the necromancer has a past with Monster Hunter International. Oh, and he wants to send Owen through the portal as a gift to his Elder God master, the Dread Lord. Owen, understandably not interested in such a trip, has to find out how to stop this necromancer. But it’s not easy: there’s a spy inside MHI, and Owen has a protective detail assigned to him from the Monster Control Bureau. And Grant Jefferson is back at MHI after his brief stint in Hollywood, apparently eager for some more monster-hunting action. Nothing is ever easy for a monster hunter.
There’s a lot that makes Monster Hunter Vendetta an improvement on the first book. Lord Machado was an over-the-top cipher of a villain, a kind of nebulous presence that felt like a bad retread of all the most camp Dark Lords from epic fantasy (TVTropes). The villain in this book is far more menacing because he’s much more human. He’s someone that the more experienced hunters know, someone who was once close to them but has since turned to the dark side. Like Machado, his allegiance to these darker powers has given him great abilities and near-invulnerability. But his motivations are more human, more understandable, and that makes him a much better antagonist. Moreover, I like how Correia is building out the breadth and depth of MHI’s history even as he moves the main plot forward.
Also, the very uncomfortable love triangle between Owen, Julie, and Grant isn’t around this time! Grant’s back, but not really as a rival love interest. And Owen and Julie’s relationship is stable without being overbearing or melodramatic—there’s just the right amount of affection and concern for each other. Instead, we get to learn more about Owen’s relationship with his parents, particularly his father. It’s nice to see that relationship changing as his parents learn the truth behind Owen’s new job. Unfortunately, it also encompasses the most problematic part of the book.
I’m somewhat tired of prophecies in fantasy. I much prefer the Random Bystander to the Chosen One. I don’t like prophecies because they are difficult to do well. Most of them are gloomy, so if the hero the fulfils the prophecy then it’s a bummer, and if the hero somehow twists or averts the prophecy then it feels like cheating. (In an extreme case, the prophecy is self-fulfilling but essentially harmless, which is a tease.) Prophecies are anathema to free will, which is a quality required in a strong protagonist—why should I care about Owen Pitt if everything he does is prophesied anyway?
To be fair, Correia doesn’t go quite so far and makes it clear that a lot remains up in the air. Owen’s birth was arranged in an extremely improbable fashion, and he’s been steered towards this point in his life. It seems like he’s blessed with some extra leeway that helps him survive in difficult situations—not impossible to kill, as another character is quick to tell him, but he’s somewhat tougher to kill. OK, fair enough. And foreshadowing a future climactic encounter with an evil entity is, I suppose, a good way to create interest in the next book. Nevertheless, I can’t help but being disappointed to learn that so much of Owen’s development has been predestined. It makes him … less impressive.
My faith in the protagonist thus shaken, I took refuge in the ancillary parts of Monster Hunter Vendetta. There’s plenty left to enjoy. Correia continues to put his own unique spins on how mythological creatures have adapted to living alongside an urbanized humanity. In the first book, we visited elves, who are now trailer park inhabitants with a serious sugar craving. Now we get to meet gnomes, who have embraced gangsta culture with a fervour; we also learn that some Internet trolls are trolls. These humourous asides are essential in a book where innocent bystanders die in zombie attacks and Otherworldly creatures devour people’s memories.
I can’t decide which of these two books I liked better. I guess I liked them about the same amount. Monster Hunter Vendetta improves in many ways upon the first book, which is as it should be, but I don’t think it goes quite far enough. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and hope Correia keeps the momentum going.