Almost forty reviews ago, I read and reviewed Man of Wax, the first in this trilogy. Since then I have been fortunate to have some contact with the author, and he liked my initial review enough to send me his latest novel, The Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is the sequel to Man of Wax.
Spoilers for Man of Wax below:
In Man of Wax, Ben Anderson was entered into a brutal game requiring him to kill and torture people in order to save his family. Ben was rescued from the game by Carver Ellison, and the book picks up two years later. Ben and Carver have spent the last two years, along with computer-whiz The Kid, saving multiple people from the game. Some have joined their army, in the fight against the game’s mastermind Caesar, although others have not been so lucky.
In this novel, they get some inside information (through tragic circumstances), that Caesar is planning a modern version of the Roman Games. The team must work quickly to infiltrate these new Games, especially given that hundreds of members of the Inner Circle will be present. This is their chance to end Caesar and the pain and suffering that he continues to cause.
I really enjoyed this book. It takes us deeper into Ben and Carver’s operation, giving us some touching and brutal back-stories on different team members. Ben is, needless to say, a very different man from the first novel. His life has been ruined, and he is trying to find his place with his new mission. The book keeps up the action very well, always leaving me wanting more. My only complaint is that there were too many car-chase scenes (at least three or four). These all jumbled together at some point and I found myself barely skimming those parts. Again, the author does a really interesting job (as he tends to across all of his books) looking at the dynamic of human nature with a very slight spiritual lens. This is NOT by any means a religious book, and it is definitely not a Christian book, but it is interesting to see how the characters approach the question of their own spirituality given the never-ending brutality they are faced with. It is a bit of a surprise in a book filled with some of the most evil acts I could think of, but it keeps it from being too cynical or depressing of a book. As long as the characters question and acknowledge these issues it keeps them human. Certainly, the end of the book is quite the cliffhanger, and I am excited to see where it goes next.
Disclaimer: Without a doubt, this book is not for the faint of heart as Swartwood describes the Inner Circle’s torturous acts in often graphic detail. On a kittens to Blake Crouch scale of 1-10, it is about a 6 or 7. Thankfully, we usually find out the details of the aftermath (and not from a victim’s first-person perspective as they are being tortured), but there is definitely a fair amount of brutality.
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