2015/11/13

Reviewing the Breakout Novel: Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International

At a recent party with several bibliophiles, I overheard a buddy of mine talking about how much he loved Larry Correia's books. Another guy chimed in with something like, "Larry's stuff is OK if you like books where every chapter ends with an explosion, but it gets tedious after a while."

That exchange illustrates the dichotomy between the high regard that Larry's fans hold him in and the running narrative that he's Not a Real Writer. While I don't begrudge anyone who makes the effort to read an author's work before deciding that it doesn't fit his tastes (like the guy above), there is a real and widespread prejudice against Larry in certain circles based on a straw man image of his writing.

I've reviewed Larry's work before. With his latest opus Son of the Black Sword tearing up the charts, now seems like a good time to look back at where his meteoric rise to the author D List began.

Most authors will never have a breakout hit. Most of the minority who do will toil for years in the word mines before scoring their big break.

It's a testament to Larry's artistic talent and business savvy (which are complementary; not opposed) that he made it onto the Entertainment Weekly best seller list on his first try. With a self-published book. That breakout novel was Monster Hunter International.


MHI Hits the Ground Running
MHI signed
Full disclosure: I received goods and services from the author in the form of a free copy of the book, which he signed :)
On an otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.
Monster Hunter International, page 1
You always hear Moby-Dick or The Gunslinger mentioned when people talk about books with the best opening lines.

For my money, the above-quoted opening of MHI easily earns a place in the Best First Lines canon. It's a fantasy we've all had (admit it). It's grounded in otherwise mundane particulars to put us right there in the scene. And the irreverent voice in which the brutal facts are given sets a pitch perfect tone that never wavers throughout the book.


Twist on the Final Girl
The best evidence against claims that Larry is a semi-literate Neanderthal writing explosion porn for barely literate troglodytes is the intentionality and craft he puts into his characters. A truly glorious feather in MHI's cap is Larry's idea of populating the book with survivors of the bloodbaths you see in horror movies.

As a horror fan myself, a novel about a paramilitary group that hires survivors of zombie/werewolf/vampire/giant spider/etc. attacks as monster bounty hunters already turns my crank. But Larry took it a step further by subverting our movie-based expectations of these characters.

The bespectacled bookworm is deadly sniper and master tactician. The accountant is a former cage fighter and 3-gun champion. The intimidating, dreadlock-sporting former jock is a devout Christian and D&D fan. Every main character has hidden depths, which makes them seem real.


Breaking the Rules
One of Larry's pet peeves is literati types who try to impose their obsession with literary rules on others. He often cites how great authors like Dan Simmons frequently break the rules. The trick is being good enough to get away with it.

NB: I rely far more on rules and conventions in my own writing than Larry does. That's because I am an unapologetic pedant who's convinced that at least one little corner of the world would be a much better place if only there were more of us ;) I do agree with Larry that the law was made to serve man; not man to serve the law.

My rule-bound disposition leads to my only problem with Monster Hunter International. The book plays host to Said Bookisms, Burly Detective Syndrome, and unnecessary dialogue attributions which can sometimes break up the flow of the text.

Then again, this is a first novel from an author whose impatience with literary perfectionism is well known, so I can't deduct too many points for some sentence-level rawness. Besides, Larry has pretty much worked these minor kinks out of his writing by now.

A far better measure of Larry's talent is when he intentionally breaks the rules. When it happens, it's for all the right reasons, i.e. it's more fun for the readers and generally serves the story better. MHI is a prime example of profitable rule-breaking, since Larry violates the injunction against using deus ex machina, not once, but twice. It does indeed work, and it's a lot of fun.


The End?
Monster Hunter International rightfully stands among the elite ranks of breakout first novels. It expertly blends time-honored tropes of the horror film tradition with hardcore action appeal.

The protagonists are inventive twists on familiar archetypes that make them fresh while staying accessible. The villains are genuinely frightening; often deeply disturbing, yet have relatable and consistent motivations that make them all the more credibly threatening.

Though MHI brings a considerable share of horror to the table, a generous dose of earthy humor heads off any danger of the book descending into a bleak, alienating slog. It is fast-paced, intriguing, and most of all, fun.

Larry Correia gets a lot of flak for not being A Real Writer. As his first book shows, anyone who levels that accusation at him can't have been paying much attention to his actual writing.

Larry Correia hat

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