Mega: A Deep Sea Thriller (Review)

MegaA research vessel filled with ex-Navy Seals goes in search of a prehistoric whale. Their search is complicated by pirates and something else in the water – larger and more hungry than anyone expects.

The group of elite soldiers, including a pair of stoned snipers, the first female candidate for the Seals (now a washed out drug addict) are hired to solve problems by the research vessel’s parent company

For a book with a giant shark on the front cover, a subtitle about the deep sea, and named after the ancestor of the Great White Shark, the book focuses very little on the shark. Most of the plot is taken up with the aforementioned pirates – they are both the main antagonists and the primary source of conflict within the book.

The shark’s role is primarily that of an intensifier – it makes tense situations more so. When the team sneak up on the pirate vessel, the shark’s fin cuts through the water. When the helicopter is heavily laden, the shark circles beneath it. When the lifeboats start to leak, the shark exacerbates the problem.

Honestly, the shark is actually quite a minor part of the whole proceedings. The shark scenes could be totally removed, and you would still have the same book. The shark does not even get that much narrative time – compared to Steve Alten’s portrayal of a megalodon, with loving close-ups and its own chapters, this one is rarely more than a fin or a shadow, and dealt with extremely quickly. There is no sense that the shark is a genuine antagonist.

That links neatly to the main problem I have with Mega – the focus. Mega is a book that tries to do too much, tries to be a story about a shark hunt, and a separate whale hunt, and pirates, and amoral corporations, and the Seals, and redemption. Pick any two, but you can’t have all of them in one book without it being too long and broken-backed. There’s little sense of pace or urgency, and time-sensitive plot lines often get dropped for quite some time to talk about irrelevancies.

The books best scenes are those that deal with the pirates and the Seals. In those sections, Bible gets in his most effective description and action scenes, as well as creating an implacable and resourceful for the highly-trained and exceptional Seals. I found it better to suspend disbelief as to how the pirates are so well-equipped and competent; the book does eventually give a reason, but it feels insufficient.

The author really likes the US Navy Seals. Really, really likes them. The first few chapters focus primarily on how great they all are, even the retired ones. In scene after scene, someone foolishly threatens one of them, and then they take on an entire bar, or the cartels, or each other, quickly and with superhuman strength and grace. It is, of course, possible that the Seals are really all that good, but it strikes me as unlikely. At times, the over-the-top descriptions of how wonderful they all are read like propaganda more than anything else.

Superhuman feats aren’t just, I should stress, confined to the Seals. There’s also a woman who is ex-Israeli special forces, and a humble engineer who becomes crazily effective for a few moments for plot reasons. But in the main, the whole “U-S-A!” thing is strongly present.

A host of expected thriller characters appear in the book – the torturing, strangely sophisticated leader of the pirates, a team of Qs in a floating armoury, even cartoonishly evil executives making terrible desicions that the plot demands. There are almost too many characters – the first part of the novel focuses on the captain of the research vessel, and then he falls more and more into the background as the book continues. Mega has an ensemble cast, but it reads more like a succession of solos while the other character wait around.

The book is violent, and frequently crude (in dialogue, at least). There is an decription of an eye getting punctured, lots of discussion of a drug-addict’s life, an excessive amount of grappling. Very little sexual content though, which is always something I find surprising in putative monster book: sex, death, and giant monsters generally go together, and the omission is noticeable. Sex is shoe-horned into a lot of things just because it’s expected (which is annoying, and it is something I strongly object to – Julian Barnes’ England, England adds transgressive sex just to be edgy, for example), and it doesn’t need to be in this book really, but it is another data point: this isn’t really a monster book.

No – this is a military story in a shark-shaped mask. I have no idea why: it isn’t as though shark-based books are amazingly popular. Films are, but even then the market is saturated for ironic viewing. Really, Mega would have been a better and more consistent book if it didn’t have all of the monster parts: ex-Seals take on pirates is a perfectly intriguing concept, it doesn’t need all of the decoration.

If it was that book, then I’d recommend it – the book would be entertaining, if not great. However, the extraneous sections, the feeling that this is multiple books rolled awkwardly into one, drag it down. In the end, it’s too long, and something of a mess.

I wouldn’t really recommend it – there are strong sections, but they are lost in the general whirl. I especially wouldn’t recommend it if you were looking for a book about a shark – it really isn’t that at all. The cover and title, even the synopsis, are actually quite misleading.

Mega is a solid action book with random plot-lines sticking out all over. It’s got some decent characterisation and action scenes, and then a bunch of other things that don’t quite fit. It’s too big, to confused, and too ambitious.

Buy it here.

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