Reviewed by Dave Jeffery
JADE SKY is the first book in the Matt Rowley series. The titular character is a member of a group of elite commandoes who have undergone augmentation, a process that leaves them with superhuman abilities, which includes infra-red sight, the ability to regenerate tissue when sustaining terrible injuries, and precognition. Rowley works for the International Council on Augmented Phenomena (ICAP), an organisation that is intent on using their superhuman soldiers to bring down some of humanity’s greatest threats. For this story, Rowley and his team are seeking to bring to justice a major head of a cartel trading in Jade, a narcotic that is highly addictive and flooding the streets with devastating consequences for the addicts who use it. As Rowley tracks down a lead to a bizarre ritual, he sees a winged demon on the stage and finds his mind mesmerised by strange commands urging him to commit acts of terrible violence. Once free of the spell he is unsure if this experience means he is becoming a bonk – the ICAP slang for those who become psychologically damaged by the augmentation process – or, worse, some kind of precognitive vision. As these whispers intermittently continue, Rowley must continue on his quest to find the man perpetuating the traffic in Jade, while trying to protect both his team and his family.
JADE SKY is a book of differing mood and texture. Characters have depth and the scenes are meticulously crafted. As well as the complexities of character and nuances of scene, the action set pieces are outlandish, and help to build belief into Freivald’s vision of brutal, comic-book violence as the members of the ICAP get pulverised, yet still fight as they regenerate like a character in a third-person shooter video game. Wincing and laughing become part and parcel with reading some of the descriptions the writer delivers during some incredibly powerful battle scenes. Suspension of belief is a fundamental requirement of enjoying JADE SKY, and this may be off putting for some readers. However, this reviewer found that in taking this chance certainly gave only reward.
The writing is assured, seamlessly weaving exposition and complex back story as the narrative progresses, aided by punchy dialogue that would not sound out of place in any quality fiction. As a protagonist, Rowley is as mentally flawed and he is physically flawless, his desire to maintain balance in the off-kilter worlds in which he operates becoming a great device in order to demonstrate how he does and doesn’t cope with the ambiguities this brings.
Overall, Freivald has managed to effectively blend a police procedural and an eccentric, super-hero-come-supernatural thriller resulting in a fast and furious piece of intelligent, action-packed fiction. Ultimately the measure of any opening book in a series is whether or not it has a reader wanting to leap into the next volume.
This reviewer is already in the air.