Book Discussion: Monster Hunter BloodlinesThe Dark Herald
Larry Correia is the last of his kind.
He started his career with an old fashioned vanity press publishing in 2008.
Larry had tried the usual route of sending his manuscript to everyone and getting rejected by everyone. So, he decided to go with the court of last resort, self-publication. An accountant by day and a writer by night, Correia had made a name for himself far and wide in the gun-nut community, he contributed to several gun magazines. He had been the owner of a gun shop, taught various types of self-defense classes where he frequently allowed himself to be used as a living punching bag. He was also a noted figure on most of the better-known gun forums.
In those days self-publishing wasn’t really considered a viable option so much as it was a self-admission of failure. It reeked of meeting some sad guy in a bar who would end the night trying to sell you a copy of his book out of the trunk of his twenty-year-old car.
However, Larry knew that he was specifically (if not widely) read. Enough so, that he had an immediate market that would buy $5000 – $10,000 worth of copies of his book. And realistically that is all you are going to make as a first-time author anyway. *
So, the Mountain That Writes contracted a vanity press and had a few thousand confections run up then started marketing them. He had done the 95% sweat and hard work that would enable the 5% luck that would take him to top the NY Times Bestseller list.
One of the people who loved his book gave an enthusiastic pitch to the guy who owned the late Uncle Hugo’s in Minneapolis. After reading Monster Hunter International, the bookshop owner called up Toni Weisskopf at Baen Books and told her she was nuts if she didn’t buy this guy’s book because he knew he could sell every copy he got.
Toni apparently thought well of his opinion and offered Larry a contract. Part of it stipulated that Correia had to cease selling his own copies and destroy any remaining ones. Consequently, guys on the gun-nut forums started flexing on their friends who hadn’t been able to get a copy before the embargo came down. Prices of used copies on Ebay started going up and up. In short pent-up demand had been created. That is very good thing for a trad-pub author.
When Baen’s edition of MHI first hit the shelves, it sold out in the first week and that put this new author from Utah on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. He was relevant overnight.
Monster Hunter International wasn’t just a gun porn, shoot-all-the-monsters pulp. There was some subtext to be found as well as clever inversions of a lot of tropes. Owen Pitt’s team consisted of the cliché characters that always die first in the movies and he reversed that to make them the winners. The elves in his world were white trash and lived in trailer parks. Orcs flew helicopters and were seriously into death metal. Gnomes were vicious little drug dealing gangbangers and Agent Franks was literally Frankenstein’s monster.
In fairness MHI had some weaknesses as well. Alpha male resentment was present in the form of Grant, the good-looking guy who was engaged to the beautiful girl that Owen was mooning after. The romance itself was cringe inducing as it mostly involved Owen moaning about how beautiful Julie was and then winning her over with a confession of true love.
Confessions of True Love are an extinction level event in the real world.
Do. Not. Do. That. EVER.
But on the whole, a great first book.
Correia has grown quite a bit as an author over the last thirteen years. He has addressed his major weaknesses or learned to write around them which is just about as good. His strongest works in the MHI series, at least in recent years, have been his exploration of some of the side characters. Owen’s brother, Mosh Pitt and his boss, Earl Harbinger were engaging in-depth examinations that still managed to be entertaining. And Grant is now kind of a good guy even if he does work for MCB.
If anything, the character getting left behind was Owen Pitt. Understandable since he was a Gary Stu.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with my lecture, an author self-insert is NOT automatically a Mary Sue. A Mary Sue is defined by a constant flood of external validation from the other characters in her book as well as the very universe, which will change its own rules just to make her look better. Whereas a Gary Stu is defined by having to do more and more spectacular feats of action to maintain his identity. Owen is same kind of character as James Bond or Conan the Barbarian, namely static. Owen can’t change that much.
The problem is that this author is growing, and Owen simply can’t. Correia has gone on to write a diesel punk magic noir series as well as his truly exceptional Sons of the Black Sword books.
A few years ago when I was still on Facebook, I was on hand when John Ringo went into a white heat and cranked out three Monster Hunter fanfiction novels in the space of a month. There was still an old collaboration contract between Correia and Ringo from a project that never came together. Ringo created the Eighties horn-dog Chad Gardenier and MHI became a shared universe.
Correia liked the collaboration enough to open his playground to his friends in a collection of short stories. An interesting standout of this anthology was Sarah Hoyt’s story about a teenage Julie Shackleford. This was the first time that Owen’s wife was genuinely a character with her own integrity instead of a cardboard cutout whose many, many, many, many, many, many virtues Owen would whinge on about for pages at a time.
It must have impressed Toni Weisskopf too because Sarah got her own MHI collaboration novel.
Which brings us to the present in the MHI universe in Monster Hunter Bloodlines.
I’ve been struggling with this next section because it’s the part where I say, I don’t really like this one.
This next block of my review is going to have spoilers throughout. If you are planning to read this book and haven’t yet, then dip out now. If you are a fan of Larry then nothing I’m about to say will change your mind.
It’s the first part of a two parter.
Someone should have mentioned that to me before I started reading because I wouldn’t have started reading. And no, the sequel isn’t coming out in two months.
It’s not a bad book. Let me state that upfront. If you are a fan of the Monster Hunter novels there is plenty of reason to buy this one. Everything you like in an MHI book is there.
Now comes the BUT.
But it has some pronounced weaknesses. The MHIverse has reached the point where fan service is starting to weigh down the story. Its fans have a checklist of things they expect to see in each and every book. Larry knows this and supplies it. It was less of an issue in the early days, but it is becoming very cumbersome in 2021. You know they are coming, and you are waiting for them. But it slows things down when you have to provide extraneous material. It’s clunky, when you are making yourself include passing mentions of events and characters that will do nothing to advance this plot and they aren’t providing any real background color either.
While the story is told from Owen’s POV, the major character is Sonya Gardenier. Chad from the Ringo books had a daughter on the way when he was killed the night of the Christmas Party.
Sonya’s mother was a Japanese Yokai, which means Sonya comes equipped with a couple of superpowers. That’s perfectly fine. Pixie-ninjas without an explanation are irritating, and Sonya has an excuse for her superhuman strength. She is also a facedancer, she has a limited polymorph ability. She can’t change her size or general build, just her face and some cosmetics.
She’s a decent character. The people at MHI who knew Chad and loved him back in the day, want to give his kid every chance. The problem is that every chance Sonya is given she uses to betray them. She is only interested in herself. Learning to trust and becoming a better person is a good character arc. No complaints there. The problem with Sonya is her complete and total obsession with her father. This chick has some ultra-major daddy issues. And it doesn’t work given her timeline.
If a girl’s father dies when she is between the years of 8-11, and he was a doting Daddy, she will build temples in his memory. I’ve seen it. But Chad died when she was in the womb. While Sonya would be curious about him, I just don’t buy her starting a one woman death cult around him. The only reason she is so drastically overinvested in the Late Chad is because the audience is. The reason she thinks so well of her dear old Dad is because we read three novels from his point of view.
Her obsession with Chad doesn’t feel natural. It kept taking me out of the story.
Then there is the villain, Stricken.
Do you remember how I said that Owen wasn’t a Mary Sue? Well, Stricken sure as hell is one. The rules of the MHIverse are constantly being warped to make him look like an omnicompetent super genius. Immovable obstacles are presented, simply for him to chuckle at them and brush them aside in contempt. He always thinks of everything. Every. Single. Time. By the time he was outwitting the Fae queen at the end of the story I was bored with him. Stricken was obviously going to overcome every single damn thing with no effort whatsoever.
But I’m afraid the biggest problem is Owen Pitt himself. Larry Correia lacks the required malignant narcissism needed to keep a Gary Stu at the top of his game. Ian Fleming had no trouble keeping Bond rolling from adventure to adventure because his fictional self-insert was a reflection of his own narcissism. Larry doesn’t spend every waking moment sucking his own dick and reminding everyone around him why they should think he’s great. Consequently, he is losing all interest in Owen Pitt. It’s obvious at this point. He’s bored with him.
Regardless, there is still plenty to like here.
If you are a fan of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books, Bloodlines will keep you entertained. Larry’s fight scenes are still the best in the business. He can still keep you turning pages. The jokes are funny. And if you enjoy his voice, it’s there for you.
Taken as a whole…
The Dark Herald Recommends with Confidence.
*There are exceptions of course. If you are being given a payout by the Cabal or are the kid of somebody with the right connections for instance.