Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series came as a bit of a surprise for me. A quick glance at the covers and description, and I dismissed them as something that probably wasn’t for me. Then I read the first one and was immediately hooked. Now on the third book, “Monster Hunter Alpha” ($7.99, Baen), Correia throws another curve ball.
I’ve gotten used to the voice and attitude of his protagonist Owen Z. Pitt through the first two volumes, but this one switches up on us, instead following the story of the cranky old man of Monster Hunter International, Earl Harbinger.
The MHI leader’s former military commander gives him information that his arch-nemesis Nikolai Petrov has entered the country. Harbinger and Petrov, as we’ll learn through the course of the story, played a legendary and bloody game of cat-and-mouse during the Vietnam War. They’ve had a truce for years, but Harbinger knows that his old enemy’s presence in the U.S. can’t be a good thing.
Petrov’s trail leads him to Copper Lake, a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where Harbinger's past and lost memories are destined to come back to haunt them.
“Monster Hunter Alpha” brings a complete shift in style from the first-person view through Owen Pitt’s eyes that we’re familiar with from the first two books. Most of the chapters get a lead-in in the form of an excerpt from Harbinger’s personal journal, as he tries to regain the memories that were wiped from his mind by a demon in the previous novel. Then, they make the shift into a third-person account of current events.
To this point, Harbinger has been a bit of a mystery to readers. Sure, we’ve made some big discoveries about him, like the fact that the world’s best monster hunter is, in fact, a werewolf himself, but “Alpha” provides a much more intimate picture of the King of the Werewolves and gives us a better understanding of the gruff, no-nonsense character. The journal, which peels back the layers, is easily as interesting a tale as the present action of the book, and by journey's end, I wouldn't mind learning a little bit more about him.
Of course, this is a Monster Hunter novel, so while Harbinger may have some introspective moments, don’t expect a sentimental journey. Correia does what he does best, delivering action, and plenty of it, with a healthy dose of dark humor. And, even though the story focuses on werewolf society, the Old Ones do raise their tentacled heads again, promising that they’re not out of the fight yet.
Copper Lake also brings no shortage of colorful characters, many of which would fit right in with Harbinger’s motley crew at MHI – and a few may get the opportunity.
Like the first two books in the series, “Monster Hunter Alpha” is a wild ride and just pure fun. With each installment in this series, Correia makes me happier that I looked past my initial misconceptions about it and decided to give it a chance.