Apex Predator by M.R. Miller: Nothing goes According to These Plans

Apex Predator

Apex Predator

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Culling, Book 2

Kindle Edition, 238 pg.

Read: April 17-20, 2020
Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“Nothing ever goes according to plan,” Shast said. That was why contingencies existed. Layers upon layers of them.

That’s from Chapter 4. By the time the book ends 11 chapters later, Shast is going to a whole new understanding of that.

But I’m getting ahead of myself there’s some sort of monster infestation in a city—forces have been sent to take care of it–two different waves, actually. But they didn’t work. So now, The Culling–the organization that handles these kinds of things, has sent a full Hand to clear it out. A Hand is a team of five hunters, each with a different specialty. With those combined talents, they should be able to handle anything.

Only Shast and the most senior member of the Hand have worked together before, the other three are experienced, but not that much. It’s a diverse group of people who usually work along and there’s a good deal of bickering and being at loggerheads on the way to the city. Once there, once the hunt gets underway, that gets compartmentalized and the Hand gets to work.

For a completely foreign world—that we still don’t really know that much about (but we’re learning)—it’s a testimony to Miller’s story-telling that the reader is able to plug into their activities, get an idea what’s at stake and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

It doesn’t take long for every theory they have to be proven wrong, everything they try to not have any success. And before long, it’s clear that what they’re facing is something most of them had never heard of—or if they had, they thought was a myth. It’s not a myth, and soon the hunters are the hunted.

Interspersed with that story are flashbacks to a hunt from early in Shast’s career, and enduring that was pivotal in his development into the hunter that he is. He gained the perspective, the cold-heartedness that he requires to survive the hunt that’s the focus of this novel. I don’t remember Miller doing anything like this before, he pulls it off pretty well. There are times when you get a story like this that you really wonder what the flashback storyline has to do with anything, but I gave Miller the benefit of the doubt and was rewarded for it.

Last time out, I praised Miller’s design of monsters. This time, I need to do the same. I don’t remember reading monsters like this before—while they were completely original, I had no trouble getting a clear idea how these things looked or acted. They were disturbing, powerful and you have little trouble understanding why the Hand wants to destroy them.

Even better is his character design—each member of the Hand is a fully realized character–and we learn their backstory, culture, specialties, and the rest without ever feeling like we endured an info drop. Through them, we get a better idea how this world works and how the Culling developed. I’m still trying to get a handle on this world, not that it bothers me much, I know what I need to know—but I’m intrigued, I’m curious. I appreciate getting a little more information about this place.

Now in the first book of the series, Shast and his companions face off with a large and unprecedented force of monsters, but it’s something they can get a handle on, something they can understand and adapt to. This time, the Hand is completely blindsided and maybe outclassed. How he moves on from this point to book 3, I have no idea—I assume Miller has a few tricks up his sleeve and I’m looking forward to seeing what they are. In the meantime, I’d encourage you all to go pick this one up.

4 Stars

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I thank him for that.

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Brotherhood of the Worm by M. T. Miller: A little Sam & Dean, a little more Van Helsing, a lot of Monster Killing

Brotherhood of the Worm

Brotherhood of the Worm

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Culling, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 332 pg.

Read: August 28-29, 2019

The door leading to the hallway and the rooms upstairs slammed open without warning, and in came the missing patron. He was tall, thin, and wide in the shoulders. He had been lodging upstairs for the last three days, and always wore the same grey coat and cocked hat. In his gloved left hand was a heavy-looking leather bag that he never let anyone else touch. Apparently, he even took it to the outhouse.

“Listen to me!” he bellowed after letting the bag down and shutting the door. “And listen well. Until the sun rises, no one may leave this inn!”

Having just emptied a goblet down his throat, Moritz gave the man a look of dull surprise. “What is this? A robbery?”

“I’m afraid not,” the strange patron said. “If it were, we’d all have a better chance of getting through it alive.”

The inn is in an 18th-Century(ish) Germany(ish) country. The strange patron is Conrad Shast, the last member of a noble household turned monster hunter. That’s about as friendly as he gets. He goes from town to town, wherever he’s called to go to eliminate any one of a multitude of monsters on behalf of a shadowy organization that, well, let me let Shast tell it:

“Few refer to it by name, but it is called the Culling, and it’s been protecting the world from monsters and witches for as long as history remembers. From time to time, others have tried their hands at monster hunting, but it never lasted. In the long run, only the Culling has survived the test of time.

“Officially, no noble is under obligation to aid a hunter. But the consequences of rejecting a plea for help far outweigh their potential cost.”

The Culling is a busy group, it seems, there are monsters everywhere in this world (even overrunning some continents), and, as the man said, they’re the only game in town. Generally, they send one or two people to any particular place, but if there’s a big enough problem, they will send out reinforcements. During the course of this novel, Shast ends up working with two other hunters. It’s clear that no two hunters are alike—there’s a variety of approaches, specialties, backgrounds, and personalities (I was a little afraid it’d be armies of Shasts, Miller might have been able to pull it off, but I like this approach better).

Shast is a classic loner, a wandering knight à la Jack Reacher or TV’s David Banner (but with less of a sense of humor). He comes to down, gets his prey and the money he (and The Culling) is owed for that service and moves on. No friends, no family, no entanglements. The particular hunt he’s on when he takes over the inn is a little trickier than most (and will end up being a lot trickier in the end)—he eliminates the monster, but not the source of the infestation. The source has moved on and has likely infested at least one more city by this point. So he has to hit the road to track down the source.

One woman in the inn was so changed by her exposure to the monster that she can detect the hidden creature (not that she wants to), so Shast brings her with him to expedite the hunt. The city guard also dispatches a knight old enough to be her father to act as chaperone and guard. Eventually, they cross paths with another hunter after the same target. She’s into poisons, explosions (Shast prefers a good knife) and making sure her enemies suffer. She joins this grim band as they continue to track down the source, eventually reaching the capital city and discovering things are worse than they thought.

It’s not a smooth journey, and there are distractions and obstacles (both monstrous and human) along the way. The group is not united in any way, and most aren’t that willing to be participating, but there’s not a lot of choice offered any of them. Putting this in an 18th-Century(ish) setting is a great idea—you get a little bit of technology (guns, primarily), but not enough that swords, horses, traveling on foot and slow modes of communication aren’t the flavor of the day. You get a shifting prominence of nobility, a rising middle class, and a church struggling to survive in a hostile world, also. It’s a tumultuous time, not helped at all by the creatures plaguing the citizenry. It’s also a great change from the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Miller’s previous series.

And I wish I had time to give good descriptions of these monsters—and you’d be better to read them for yourselves anyway. The first one we see is simply disgusting and disturbing (and, boy howdy, am I glad we don’t get a bunch of them). Some aren’t that bad (relatively speaking, anyway), but a lot of them could be nightmare fodder is Miller used them a little differently. None of them are easy targets for the Hunters, but it’s only in large numbers that they’re a giant threat. We don’t seem to get anything that you’ve seen before (at least nothing I’ve seen before), which is great. Nothing against trolls, orcs, vampires, wights, etc.—but I appreciate seeing something new.

A common thread, it hit me this weekend, to all the books I read—Crime Fiction, SF, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, even General Fiction, Non-Fiction or Theology—is that the worst enemies, the greatest predators, the most dangerous threats to humans aren’t aliens, monsters, demons, or whatever external threat you can think of. It’s humanity, our neighbors, our leaders, those like us. And as horrible as the creatures that The Culling targets may be, there’s something hundreds of times worse. Miller using that reality, reflecting that in his fantasy, is my favorite part of this novel (the competition for that was stiff), it’d have been easy and understandable to make a parasite that can control its host—or some other creature—to be the ultimate evil that Shast and the rest contend with. But Miller took the better—and harder—road. Which speaks good things for this new series (and bodes ill for how things are going to go in future installments).

Speaking of future installments, I know he’s already getting things ready to release the sequel in a few months. I can see a lot of options for what that sequel will hold—Character A’s next hunt, or Character B’s hunt/attempt at redemption, Character C & D going forward (together or separately), or a completely new batch of characters in the same world. All of which are pretty appetizing—I’d prefer A or C and/or D to another group or B—but I can see any of those working. Miller’s earned my trust at this point, and I’ll take whatever eagerly.

This is the sixth work I’ve read from Miller (you can read about the four novels and one novella of The Nameless Chronicle here), and I love watching him grow and develop—he’s learned a lot from that last series, and is applying those lessons well. This is more assured and better executed than those—and I had few complaints about them! Jump on to this one at the beginning of what promises to be a great ride.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

4 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Bedlam by M. T. Miller


by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #4

eARC, 210 pg.

Read: November 27 – 28, 2017

I was excited to open my email and see a new book from M. T. Miller waiting for me — but I’m not ready to say goodbye to this series. I do think this was the right point to wrap things up and exit, I just liked life better when I wondered when there’d be a new book about Nameless.

How to talk about this . . . this is really hard without just spilling the beans about everything.

We met Nameless as he seemingly climbed out of his own grave into a dystopian future of the Western US, not knowing anything about himself (inluding, obviously his name), but with a particular set of skills that enabled him to kill — which also seemed restorative. But he didn’t seem to be a monster. After three books of struggle to survive and find some measure of success, Nameless finally succeeded. He accomplished everything he set out to do, and then found a better way to look at life, an equanimity. Life still had challenges, but he has a new way to deal with them, a new confidence.

Then something appears, ready to take it all away — and how will Nameless react? Very differently than he would’ve before (while consistent with the guy we’ve come to know).

Not only that — but a lot of the mysteries surrounding Nameless are resolved. Questions I stopped hoping/expecting to get answers to were answered as we say goodbye to him and the world that Miller has created for us.

There’s a good degree of character development here for both Nameless and Rush — and a believable lack thereof for many others. Characters you liked in earlier books, you’ll still like. Characters that you were ambiguous toward earlier, you’ll probably still be ambiguous about.

About halfway through the book, Miller changes the rules — he does something gutsy and incredibly hard to discuss without ruining. Just when you get to the point where you pretty much accept what he’s doing, he changes it again. Up to this point, this was my favorite of the books — I really got into things. I liked it less with each new tack. Not that I didn’t appreciate the ambition, or Miller’s skill — it just changed Nameless’ story from Story Type X to Story Type Z. And I’ve never been a fan of Z, I don’t hate Z, but it’s just not my cup of tea. The more I think about it, I can see where this is justified by everything that’s happened throughout the series, and I can even defend it. I just don’t like it.

I guess you can compare it to what happened at the end of Lost or Moore’s Battlestar (both of which I liked, I should mention) or — the writers of those made a choice and executed it. I appreciate Miller’s choice and execution, but it’s just not something that’s every going to appeal to me. Basically this series consists of 1 novella and 3.5 novels that I enjoyed with .5 novels that was well done, but not my taste.

Like I said, I do think that this was the time to leave the series, I think Miller had done everything he could with Nameless, Rush and the rest. I wasn’t crazy about how he landed the plane, but I appreciated it for what it was. I can easily see others thinking I’m wrong about Z, and really digging the parts of the book that leave me cold — so please don’t take anything I said as a discouragement from reading either this book, or the series. I’m really looking forward to whatever he ends up doing next, because I do think I can see Miller’s growth over these 5 novels/novellas. It was a heckuva a ride, and I’m glad I came along for the ride. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn’t impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.


4 Stars

Strife by M. T. Miller


by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #3

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.

Read: July 28 – 31, 2017

The first two books of this series feature Nameless just struggling to survive, while along the way stumbling into adventure, some wealth and other kinds of success. He really never seemed to have much of a plan, but things worked out in his favor (eventually, and at great cost). But after the great success — if it is that — after Ascent, Nameless isn’t worried about survival, about doing more than subsisting this time. He’s got time for plans — not just plans for himself, but for the citizenry of the Pyramid.

Whoops. Maybe he should go back to just eking out a living.

Things don’t go so hot for him this way — but man, what character growth. Really, there are depths to Nameless that may not surprise readers, it makes sense that they exist, but we’ve never had the opportunity to see it before.

There are two other cities on the post-apocalyptic landscape, New Orleans and the White City. New Orleans is full of the New Voodoo Movement, and the White City is the home base of the One True Church of America — religious movements that Nameless doesn’t have a good track record with, and has done a lot to try to get rid of. Now both of these cities have plans for Babylon and Nameless — but it’s clear that pretty much all the White City wants out of them is abject surrender and assimilation. That’s just not going to sit well with Nameless.

Now Nameless has to look at the world that he’s helped to create, but he has a chance to reshape it, and save the city he’s adopted.

There’s some soul-searching here, there’s a lot of exploration into what makes Nameless tick and his origins. But the focus is on what he’s going to do next and why. This is only the third book in the series, so you really can’t say what a “typical” Nameless book would be — but whatever that would be, this isn’t it. I don’t know how to really talk about it without divulging all the nuts and bolts of the plot, sadly. There are old friends and new, old threats and new (and some old friends are new threats and vice versa). Which is not to say that the core of Nameless — a ruthless, skillful killer of all in his way — isn’t there, he is and he does. But there’s a little more to him than just that.

I’ve enjoyed Miller’s writing in the past, but this is at a whole new level for him. There’s a complexity to his writing, a subtlety that hasn’t been there before. There’s a good balance of lightness and darkness in the story, the writing itself. He’s clearly maturing as a writer, hopefully people give him a shot to impress them, he will.

This isn’t the place to jump on for new readers — the first two books are cheap and pretty entertaining, too, grab them first. I don’t know if Miller’s going to be able to keep this series going, if so, I can’t wait to see where he goes from here. But if not, I’m more than satisfied with where things are left. A very satisfying ending after a good mix of thrills, fighting and character growth.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Thanks, Mr. Miller! This didn’t impact my opinion of the book in any discernible way.


4 Stars

A Strange Chemistry by M. T. Miller

A Strange Chemistry A Strange Chemistry

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle

Kindle Edition, 69 pg.

Read: December 14, 2016

If Miller had told me that he was going to write a novella about someone else in The Nameless Chronicle, I’d have had 3 or 4 guesses who’d it’d feature. And I would’ve been wrong. However, if he’d asked for requests, this is what I’d have asked for.

Sure, I’d rather see more from Nameless and I don’t doubt we’ll get that soon — but if we’re going to take a side trip, Rush is the one I’d like to go with.

This takes place not long after the end of Ascent, and if nothing else, this lets us catch a quick glimpse of life after those events. But we don’t get much of that — mostly this is about Rush and her own personal aftermath. Which ain’t pretty. The drugs she’s been taking to perform at the level she does aren’t doing there a lot of for her and withdrawal is lurking around the corner all the time. It’s possible, just possible, that the steady stream of drugs that she depends on is slowing down — maybe even changing into something else. This, and her steady need for distraction, gets Rush on the street to investigate. Which doesn’t go so well for her — but Rush being Rush, it goes worse for most of those who cross her.

While we’re seeing this, we get Rush’s origin story, which goes almost exactly the way you’d have guessed. But Miller gives it to us in such a way that the reader doesn’t feel like he’s wasting his time reading it — it also helps the emotional weight of what’s going on in the “present” day story. I thought she was interesting before, I know she’s interesting now — and I can’t wait to see what Miller’s going to do with this character next.

This is a short, fast read with plenty of action and a good dose of insight into one of this series’ most interesting characters. If you’re reading The Nameless Chronicle, you want to read this. If you’re not reading the series, you should look into it. Good stuff.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and because the author’s a cool guy.


3 Stars

Ascent by M. T. Miller

AscentAscent: Second Book of the Nameless Chronicle

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Nameless Chronicle, #2

Kindle Edition, 316 pg.

Read: September 3, 2016

Can you read this without having read Risen? Yeah, but it’d be better if you didn’t (and Risen is short enough that you might was well). I’m not sure how much time has passed since the last page of the first book, but we find Nameless pretty much how we left him — wandering along, on the verge of . . . whatever exactly would happen to him if he didn’t get more energy. Like before, almost as soon as he gets to town, he falls victim to a gang of sorts and is mugged. Of course, his first order of business (after recuperating from the beating) is revenge, which will give him the energy he needs to move around the Pyramid to search for the explanations he needs to understand his abilities, his nature and identity.

What’s the Pyramid, you ask? It’s a city in a giant 4-tiered structure (each tier housing a different caste). Nameless adopts a name, makes a little money on the lowest level — full of crime, poverty and menial labor — and buys himself access to the next level. Where he finds a new — and legal — way to use his fighting abilities to make money. Things go haywire from there.

There’s a lot more going on in this book than there was in its predecessor, Risen — if for no other reason than it’s almost 3 times as long. It’s still the same kind of book — full of violence, some pretty good fight scenes, and a post-apocalyptic culture that’s foreign, yet all-too familiar. There are many more characters, relating to Nameless in a variety of ways — friendship, camaraderie, betrayal, exploitation, to name a few.

The way things went in Book One, I assumed that we were going to learn Nameless’ origins, etc. over the course of a handful of books. Nope — we get almost every question we had about where he came from answered — and almost all of them are just dumped on us. There was no slow and steady learning here, just *BAM!* here are your answers. And it worked — much better than a slow reveal, a giant dropping of information (which I usually am opposed to) took care of everything (while still leaving me with almost as many questions as Nameless had).

I shouldn’t neglect to say that just because Nameless has almost all of his questions answered here, that he knows what to do with this information. I’m guessing part (or all of that) will be revealed in Book Three.

I don’t normally do this, but I while writing this I went back to my post about Risen and chuckled because what I said there as a lot like the next point on my outline: “My one complaint is length — just about everything is too short. The story is too short, most of the scenes are, too. But I’m pretty sure that’s just my wanting more for myself — to give us longer scenes would ruin the pacing, would mess with the way Miller’s constructing the series. And really, when you get down to it “I wanted more!” is more of a compliment than a complaint — but I’m calling it one nonetheless.” His scenes aren’t too short this time, but everything else I said there is still true. A lot of the action (especially the violence) is given to us in summary form — we see the “important” fights, the ones that shape the story, but the rest is given in something like a re-cap mode (ditto with the flirting, with his conversations with others, and so on). So clearly, this is the kind of thing that’s 1. Miller’s style and/or 2. The style of this series. Either are perfectly acceptable. And honestly? If he’d given us more of the fights, more about Nameless’ days in the new society he’d encountered, etc. I’d likely be complaining that he’s reveling in the violence, bogging down the story with the details. So what do I know?

Ascent is a book that kept you guessing and leaves you in a very different world than you thought you were in at the beginning — with a status quo that is so far from what it initially was that it’ll leave you reeling. Taut, well-paced, with some pretty good hand-to-hand combat scenes — and it won’t let you go until the very end. Miller’s really got something going here.

Disclaimer — I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. I appreciate that, Mr. Miller — and thanks for being so cool about me forgetting the date.


3.5 Stars

A Few Quick Questions With…M. T. Miller

I posted about M. T. Millers’s Risen: First Book of the Nameless Chronicle yesterday (if you didn’t read it, take a moment now — or skip what I said and go get the book). Miller was kind enough to participate in a Q&A with me. I asked some Risen-specific questions and then a couple less-so. I kept it short and sweet, because I’d rather he work on his next book than take too much time with me, y’know?

What got you into writing? Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
Misfortune got me into writing. Due to an unforeseen death, me and my SO found ourselves severely lacking in currency, so I took a ghostwriting gig to plug the leak and save the ship. After some time, having seen quite a bit of the more popular stuff first hand, I decided I was just as good. Time will tell if I was right.

As for my major influences, I’d say those would be George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, and on a less conventional note, whoever it is that did the story for the Nier/Drakengard series of games. I think his name is Yoko Taro. I see their presence quite clearly in my work. Martin taught me how to swing the axe, but to do it effectively as opposed to liberally. Lynch helped me with the same thing, but did so with the wit and style I can only hope to match some day. As for Yoko Taro, well. . . he taught me how to handle unhinged characters in a way that works.

How many stories do you have in mind for this? I assume you know what’s going on with Nameless — who he is, where he’s from, what kind of supernatural being he is and so on — how hard is it to give your readers bits and pieces of this information here and there? How long before he figures it all out? Sister Chastity seemed to know — did she? (feel free to not answer those last two — or to make your answer as teasing as you want)
The whole story is planned to run for some six installments, each longer and more complex than the last. For instance, book two will be roughly twice the size of the first one. Of course, I might increase or decrease the number in the future by splitting or fusing story arcs. We’ll see.

I’ve found it much easier than expected, and more fun for that matter, to spread little clues about. I’m not a very subtle person; I go straight for the throat, and I feared that the whole mystery thing would suffer for it. Luckily, I seem to have gotten it under control. At least for now.

Several big reveals will happen sooner than you might think, but answers always come with more questions.

The Sister has seen her fair share of weirdness, but her relation to the Nameless was more defined by his charity than what she knew or didn’t know.

In the writing of Risen, what was the biggest surprise about the writing itself? Either, “I can’t believe X is so easy!” or “If I had known Y was going to be so hard, I’d have skipped this and watched more TV”.
I never expected the epilogue to come out as good as it did. I wrote it in one sitting, and it came out absolutely perfect. It still gives me the chills.
“Horace” is a great name, but not a common one — is there a story behind your selection of it?
There’s a story behind every name, even the lack of one. For me, the name “Horace” invokes the Old West, the American Civil War, and the like. Given that the Nameless Chronicle is more or less “Old West meets apocalyptic fantasy,” it just felt right.