‘War is hell’ is a common term used by soldiers, Bryon Morrigan twists this in a unique direction in Acheron. The story is narrated by Captain Nathan Leathers, an American soldier serving in Iraq. He is initially ambushed and captured by Iraqi insurgents before discovering that something much worse than al-Qaeda lurks in the sand of the Iraqi desert. Acheron has an interesting concept at its core. The theme of a war within a war that runs throughout the story is well told and neatly woven together. The military knowledge on display in the book is impressive and Morrigan’s passion for the army shines through in almost every chapter.
The principle problem with Acheron, however, stems from the military viewpoint that the story is presented in. To write a book in the first person the narrator must have an individual voice that is worthy of dominating the narrative, this is not the case with Captain Leathers. From the outset he comes across as arrogant and unsympathetic, making it extremely difficult to warm to him as a character and sullying some of the best moments. Leathers’ personality dominates every single page and his views taint the relationships he has with other characters. All of the supporting cast are written as inferior to Leathers so consequently when they start to die later in the book little emotion is evoked. It is also important to note that the first person perspective of the book negates a lot of tension that the author tries to build throughout. Despite having a wealth of military knowledge the protagonist appears to have very little common sense. He spends a lot of time reflecting on how easily he was caught out by basic military techniques used by his enemies. This creates a deeply flawed and implausible persona.
Acheron is set in the Middle East, a somewhat unique setting for a war with zombies and other monsters and the devastated streets of Basra are used to good effect when creating the well-written action sequences throughout the book. However, Morrigan shows a worrying prejudice and ignorance of other cultures in the story that appears to go beyond the angry views of a soldier and into a darker vein that borders on racism. There is also a misguided plot point featuring Christian Fundamentalists that is an unwelcome distraction from the crux of the story.
Acheron is a highly frustrating read. At its best it has snappy action sequences – punctuated by short chapters – that almost read like a film script. The plot is imaginative and the numerous monsters encountered are vividly brought to life on the page but the tedious narrative, and ignorant dialogue used, slows what should be a fast paced thriller to a slightly laborious crawl.
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