Pale Horse is the third book in the Project Eden series, an exciting, edge-of-your-seat kind of story about biological warfare and what could happen if one powerful group of people decided to annihilate 99% of humanity by releasing a deadly flu virus into the population. When I started reading this installment, I figured it was going to be the final book and would wrap everything up at the end. Pale Horse, however, is not the end, although I wish it had been. There is a lot to enjoy about the book, but as a part of the whole Project Eden experience, it fell flat in some ways. It’s hard to review this book without giving the story away, so I’m afraid I will have to invoke these dreaded words: Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers!
At the end of Exit Nine, one of the characters was about to press a computer key and unleash hell on earth. Pale Horse picks up at that moment, but Battles cuts away to another storyline and makes the reader wait a while for the outcome. It worked as a device for keeping the suspense high, but it was only the first of many frustrating moments for me. Battles uses the same formatting as the previous two books by jumping from character to character in order to give an overall picture of what’s happening around the globe. I quite like this style, and I think it works really well for this type of suspenseful writing. Most of the characters carry over from Exit Nine, but there are some new ones as well.
One of my favorite story lines takes place in India, and follows Sanjay and his girlfriend Kusum as they try desperately to rescue Kusum’s family. Sanjay is an employee of Pishon Chem, a company that is part of Project Eden and is making its workers spray the city with what they think is an anti-malarial spray, but is actually the Sage Flu virus. Sanjay has figured out the truth and has obtained some vaccine to protect himself and Kusum. But now Kusum wants to vaccinate her family as well, and their tension-filled journey through the flu-infested city streets to steal more vaccine was one of my favorite parts of the book.
Likewise, I enjoyed following the characters of the Resistance at their Montana ranch through some very suspenseful moments, especially Ash’s son Brandon who becomes trapped outside the compound after the rest of the Resistance members have barricaded themselves in a secret underground bunker. Brandon is much more than a scared kid who has been separated from his family. He is resourceful, brave and determined to follow the survival teachings of his father and find a way back to his family before Project Eden can kill him. In one of the creepiest sections, he sneaks into a garage to find shelter for the night, but has a terrifying run-in with the old lady who lives there.
In large cities throughout the world, shipping containers that have been dropped off in strategic areas are mysteriously beginning to open up. It seems that Project Eden’s plan is finally coming together. Or is it? Battles stretches out the suspense in a maddening way, perhaps too well. He keeps the reader guessing for almost 300 pages, but uses foreshadowing at the ends of chapters to suggest that the bad guys might be winning this game. (Example: “With a smile, she continued down the street, unaware that later that evening she would be cooking her last meal.”) I felt it was an intrusive device that took the storytelling away from the characters and put it back in the hands of the author.
The writing throughout the book is top-notch, but one writing choice in the last chapter of the book puzzled me. Battles switches from past to present tense, and it felt completely out-of-place. I’m sure he intended it to ramp up the suspense at the end, and usually using present tense is a good way to accomplish this. But Pale Horse was already suspenseful at this point, and I didn’t care for the change in tense.
Although filled with engaging characters and pulse-pounding excitement, I ultimately felt cheated by Pale Horse’s cliffhanger ending. As part of a series, nothing much is resolved, and I didn’t have that satisfied feeling at the end that I look forward to when reading a book. But if you are a suspense junkie and enjoy being toyed with, you will love Pale Horse. And you won’t have to wait long for the next installment. Ashes, Book Four in the series, comes out this fall. Whether or not it will be the end of Project Eden, you’ll just have to wait and see.
Many thanks to the author for providing a review copy.
Tammy recommends reading the first two books in the Project Eden series first: