When Graham Austin-King first approached me about an ARC of The Lore of Prometheus he described it as sort of Dean Koontz / Stephen King / Clive Barker style. Now, I’ve read one Koontz book and maybe two of King’s. I liked Koontz; King I’m not sure about. I was still interested, so said “bring it on”. Then the blurb was released and I started to think I might have made a mistake. A soldier MC, the story set in Kabul and the book further described as military fantasy. Let’s just say all of these are way out of my comfort zone so I was expecting not to enjoy this book.
And why am I telling you all this? Because in the end I devoured the book in less than two days. And that’s only because I started to read it on a Sunday and I had to wake up early in the following morning. 76% was in practically one sitting and these days I average reading a book a week.
In short, The Lore of Prometheus absolutely blew me away and exceeded all of my expectations by a mile.
After a mission gone terribly wrong in Kabul, John Carver can’t really find his place in society back in London. He loses his girlfriend, lives from one day to the next, and his debts are growing thanks to his gambling addiction. Carver gets to the point where he has no option but ask for help from an old friend, sending him right back to the place of his nightmares and the cause of his PTSD. Kabul is also the place where his name had become a legend. A heritage he didn’t want and would like to forget about. But he needs the money so he sucks it up and goes to do what he is good at: oversees an Afghan minister’s safety system, giving advice on improvement and training people how to behave while on duty. Little does he know what really waits for him. Soon enough he finds himself abducted, restrained, and tortured. All in the name of science.
“Torture is an odd thing. People often make the mistake of confusing torture with pain and they’re not always the same thing.”
So says Afridi, one of the masterminds behind John’s current situation. Afridi is a sociopath and a maniac, having only one goal before his eyes.
The protagonist, John, has his POV in first person, which makes us able to really see into his head. He has a sarcastic, sassy attitude, but then in his position who would blame him to try and get through the hard times with some humour?
“Have you come with that steak I ordered?” the man on the frame called out to towards the glass wall. “It’s going to be a bit of a bastard cutting it, what with me being all tied up like this, but I’ll give it a good go.”
However, under the confident surface, there is a broken man. Riddled with guilt and doubt, with a strong headedness which helps him to get out from the most sinister situations, he constantly battles with his own demons from the past. Which makes him vulnerable and a perfect candidate.
“I was their prize lab rat, but I hadn’t just made it through the maze to my reward; I’d nibbled through the bloody walls, set up a little camp, and built a fire to roast the cheese.”
No matter what they do to him, how they try to break him even more, he bounces back and with the help of his remaining wit he manages to do the impossible. But although he has a soldier’s training and iron will, he can’t make it out of this trouble alive by himself. Through sheer coincidence he meets Mackenzie, an Australian nurse, who is also kept in the same place as John. Through a third person POV we learn about how she got into the compound and what did she go through while being there – she not only was tortured but at one point she also agreed to help her captors to learn about the magic in the world and how certain people can wield it. She hones her skills until the right moment presents herself to run for her life.
The real strong point of this book apart from the characters is the way Austin-King portrays torture, how he keeps up the tension, makes you turn the pages while you wonder what might come next. Until the very end you aren’t sure what the outcome will be, and the final conclusion is quite satisfactory. I bow down before Austin-King for not making his character choose the obvious choice. And also because of the way he handled such sensitive topics as PTSD, the current state of the Middle-East, and torture. He plays with questions like how far you can go to break someone, but still keep them sane enough to be any use. Can you break someone further than they are already? What makes the mind break? And how can we manipulate that break?
“We are each of us insane. Maybe there is no true sanity. All any of us have is the control we cling to, and any one of us can be swept away.”
Austin-King’s prose is flowing and he knows very well how to break up tension with a little bit of humour or light banter here and there about unexpected things like IKEA meatballs. And that’s all I’m saying on that matter. It’s easy to forget about the world around you and dive into the madness while the author holds your hand and helps you get through the dark, twisty labyrinth of his mind coming alive on the pages. This book being a standalone wraps things up pretty well, but also leaves some possibilities open for a future sequel. That being said, I could have liked some more explanation about certain people’s motives or how such an operation works really. A glimpse behind the scenes. It boggles my mind how can hundreds of people assist Afridi and Doctor Elias (whom I liked despite his role in the game).
The Lore of Prometheus is a shockingly wicked dark tale of the power of the human mind. The most dangerous monster of them all. If you still wonder if this book is for you, let me tell you what you can expect: characters far from being perfect, struggling with their own demons; tension from page one to the last; plenty of action; a few things to think about; an unhealthy dose of torture, and a few laughs, because who says people can’t go down with a good laugh?