H.A.W.X. (David Michaels)
H.A.W.X. is a novelization loosely based on the video game of the same name (which I haven't actually played.) The tale of experimental aircraft, hotshot pilots, and the dangers of private military companies, H.A.W.X. has a decent premise, but it quickly falls flat in what is one of the worst books I have ever read. Featuring flat characters, a plot that loses touch with reality for its third and final act, and horrific writing, H.A.W.X. is an embarrassing dud of an effort.
The actual plot starts quite well. After a forgettable prologue that introduces protagonist Troy, his family life, and a bit of background, we are thrust into his life as an Air Force pilot. From some brief training vignettes to real time action in Sudan, the plot is reasonably coherent the pacing is strong. After a mildly interesting twist is thrown into the equation, Troy finds himself working for private military contractor Firehawk.
The tone shifts a bit here and we get into the remorseless world of mercenary warfare. We learn about the ever changing, "nothing personal" world of the corporations as your rival in combat one hour is your brother in arms the next. This is illustrated through a handful of operations around the world, ending only when Troy takes a job testing new technology in the Nevada desert. The book starts to go slightly off rails here, however, as it randomly begins to suggest that PMCs actually begin taking over governments of smaller nations. Troy's misgivings about his role in Firehawk and their experimental weapons program culminate in his supplying information to the CIA about the blustery, foolish leader, Raymond Harris.
This is the point when logic flies out the window. Harris tries to kill Troy by locking him in a one of a kind, top secret recon plane and letting him run out of fuel. Besides the sheer ineffective nature of that premise, it just doesn't make sense for him to waste his super secret plane just to eliminate a potential mole. Needless to say, Troy survives by the skin of his teeth and returns for a climactic showdown in Washington D.C., where Firehawk and another PMC have essentially seized control of the government. This baffling segment, and therefore the story ends with Troy and his perpetual love interest, Jenna, chasing Harris, who has inexplicably decided to blow up a U.S. military installation due to the fact that the president is hiding there. The author overlooks several logical elements with this conclusion, namely 1. What are Harris's plans to deal with the line of succession? Killing the president just puts a new guy in charge, and we already are told that the American people oppose the move to "privatize the executive branch." 2. Why would Harris, without any kind of escort, decide to undergo a bombing run to nuke the president? He wasn't expecting any resistance I guess, but it still makes little sense given the tense situation. A third problem arises when a random airbus is introduced only to be blown up. The fact that it wasn't grounded at this time is literally unbelievable, and it plays no role in anything, so its inclusion was rather superfluous to begin with. The finale to this story, which doesn't even tie up most of the loose ends, ruins what was otherwise a solid, unspectacular work.
Our central character, Troy, is about as unlikable and lifeless as you can get in a protagonist. He defies his parents for seemingly no reason, gets into a fight with a teammate, leaves a comrade behind, and abandons the girl of his dreams to pursue military service. The worst part about the latter is that his reasons for joining the Air Force are poorly defined. He goes from being a college football star to having no prospects at playing in the NFL, so therefore he joins the military. It makes little sense, and throwing away his relationship with a girl over such a random desire makes him out to be a selfish idiot. From this terrible start, he goes from openly unlikable to just plain bland. His motivations are always unclear, his aspirations and hopes even murkier, his personality non existent. The same could be said for every character introduced here, from the totally anonymous pilots, officers, and friends that form the supporting cast, to the two major players in antagonist Raymond Harris and love interest Jenna. The latter two are driven by, and consumed with the most simple minded things. Jenna pursues a relationship with Troy against her best interests, and for no discernable reason Harris plots the overthrow of the U.S. government.
Jenna and Troy develop a romantic relationship over the course of the novel, with Hal playing a role in establishing romantic tension early on. After he is out of the picture though, the two slowly become more attached to one another for inexplicable reasons. Jenna realizes that Troy is a douche bag and self centered, yet she "wants his body" so that is ok. Troy is courting a woman with no personality beyond speaking in a southern drawl and saying y'all too much. It is an exceedingly vapid relationship and it produces cringe worthy (yet funny) moments whenever it pops up.
H.A.W.X features some of the most unintentionally hilarious writing I have ever experienced. From the awful romance between Troy and Jenna, featuring lines such as "I'm burnin' up in here, y'all. I need you to come on in and finish me off," the relationship between the two is basically impossible to take seriously. The author's ridiculous decision to make the person from Arkansas use y'all with every other sentence leads to more side splitting lines like "Yesterday... all day when we were walking through that ravine, y'know," Jenna replied. "I had this fantasy about taking a shower with y'all." and "Sometimes you're obnoxious, but you're a hunk and I have had... kind of a thing for y'all."
Horrific dialogue aside, the rest of the book fares little better. The author seems to think you are a complete idiot, so he goes to strange lengths to explain simple concepts to you. This occasionally manifests itself in dialogue, with characters saying stupid things like "Hypothetical? That's like when you make up something that represents something, like testing out some theory that you suppose is true, huh?" and "But remember what Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo Eleven Lunar Module pilot who was the second human to walk on the moon, said..." but more often seeps into the narrative itself. The author carefully explains his phrasing in this passage: "What?" Jenna asked in that "I-know-what-you're-thinking" tone that people have when they think they know what you're thinking." I'd love to tell you this was just a random outlier, but so much of the book is repetition, reminding you of previous plot events or explaining basic things, that it feels about one hundred pages too long.
Even when you aren't laughing uncontrollably at the dialogue or struggling through yet another expository passage on something extremely obvious, the writing itself just falters. Dog fighting scenes, frequent throughout the book, rarely build any tension and follow the same basic structure each time. Even the climactic chase doesn't create any suspense, though part of this can be attributed to the utter lack of realism present throughout that scene. Writing about fighter combat is not easy, something about the impersonal, tech driven nature of any given dog fight makes it a bit hard to relate to and the maneuvers generally translate poorly to paper, but this marks a below average effort even with all of these qualifiers.
From cover to cover, H.A.W.X is one of the least inventive, boring, offensively bad books that I have ever read. A plot that manages to hold together for half the book totally unravels by the end, and the characters and writing style are completely atrocious throughout. This book is surprisingly good for a laugh, but other than the unintentional comedy, there is little to enjoy here. Stay away.