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Review: Fearful Symmetry: A Thriller

Fearful Symmetry: A Thriller
Fearful Symmetry: A Thriller by Michael McBride
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unabridged – Audible Audio Edition

Pure Adventure at a Documentary Pace

DISCLAIMER: I received this copy in exchange for a review.

WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.

There is a great deal to like about this novel. It contains some of the usual techno-thriller ingredients: Nazis, esoteric science, the Yeti, and long, lost Tibet. If you were to judge it by those alone you might well say, “Meh.” However, it’s how these ingredients are mixed that gives this novel its unique flavor.

In 1938 Nazi scientists brave the Himalayas in search of the Master Race. They fail. Or do they? 75 years later the sole survivor puts together small team of four extraordinary scientists to retrace his steps and unlock the secrets of the next phase of human evolution.

The plot unfolds in parallel tracks; present day, and via journal entries from the original expedition. Michael McBride does an outstanding job of interweaving these story lines. It’s never cluttered or confusing, in large part because the journal entries are written in period style. The language and word choices harken back to the 1930s, giving the reader a clear delineation between what has happen, and what is happening.

The plot and universe remind me of Larry Niven’s “Protectors” series. To be sure, this is a techno-thriller and not hard science fiction, but I felt teased by the similarity of the elements.

The audio production is very good. There were a few wah-wahs indicating some not so seamless edits and the audio was a little muddy in places, but not distractingly so. I only noticed because I was listening for it. Scott Thomas has a gift for excellent character voices, particularly the aged Johann Brandt. His pacing and stylings enhance an already taunt and charged atmosphere.

McBride did an enormous amount of research for this novel. The explanations of the sciences embraced and the history used serve to inform and heighten the story’s drama and tension. He accomplishes this by distilling complex ideas into readily manageable chunks. The reader surfs on a wave on information and isn’t buried under a tsunami of facts. At least, initially.

Regrettably, the info dumps do get tedious. At one point I was shouting “Out with it already!” For instance, I didn’t need to know the number of tattoos on the priest’s face, or their arrangement, or their native name, symbology, or significance. Having all that information didn’t move the plot along one bit. Is was a distraction, tying back to nothing, and dragging at the pacing.

This is a plot driven story, and the plot is engaging. It moves rapidly and constantly. As with many plot driven novels, the characters suffer. Most of them are stand-ins with no unique personality or depth, and could have been replaced by almost anyone. The character building lags behind the plot development and drags at the story.

The two stand outs are Brooks and Brandt. Brandt in particular is very well developed. A paragraph with the 95 year old survivor of the initial expedition leaves you feeling like you need a shower. Brooks is his foil, young and enthusiastic, but not so naive as to believe everything he is told.

About four-fifths of the way through the story, love unexpectedly blossoms like a weed between Brooks and another member of the expedition. It felt forced, and like so many of the info dumps, could have been excised without troubling the main plot one little bit.

The outcome of the story felt like it had been pulled out of a top hat. It was an abrupt about face ending. It’s possible that it was foreshadowed so cleverly that I just missed it, however I felt like I’d not just been fooled, but suckered.

I know it sounds like I’m nitpicking, but that’s all I’m really left with. The bulk of the novel is crisp, well written, and fascinating. So, despite any of my reservations, if you enjoy a rollicking techno-thriller this is a book you’ll want to read or, in particular, listen to.

View all my reviews

About the Author: Paul K. Ellis
Author Website:

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