Rath Preap is the owner of a private island in the South China Sea, an island that caters for the rich to come and hunt big game, but is all but cut off from the outside world. Among his guests are Horia, a Romanian ex-wrestler, Nikolai and Marikova, former KGB agents, Gustat, a billionaire with a hidden agenda and Maxim, a British rock star.
When the rhino they are hunting is slaughtered in front of their eyes Rath and his guests soon come to realise that they are no longer the hunters, but the prey. A Predator is on the hunt and is systematically destroying the fragile links the island has with the outside world, leaving Rath, his guests and his men trapped and looking over their shoulders at every turn.
Despite a couple of AVP movies that have done nothing for the franchise, I love the original Predator film (and number 2 isn’t that far behind) and the thought of a book that could examine similar themes to that film was something I had to pick up. I’ve not read anything by Jeff VanderMeer before so I was looking forward to see something from him, even though it isn’t an original novel. I’ve also only read a couple of the Alien vs Predator books, but nothing standalone in either series. I enjoyed this quite a bit and will certainly look to pick up some of Jeff’s books based on what I’ve read here.
I’ll be honest when I say I wasn’t expecting too much from this – I knew it was a tie in novel and from the experience I’ve had so far with these sorts of things I thought I’d get a pretty run of the mill story and scenario. I was also worried that the characters would turn out to be two dimensional pieces of meat there only for the killing. How wrong I was – this is an excellent novel with well developed characters, a decent and believable Predator who is on the hunt, a great setting and, despite the tie in nature of the novel, some nice original ideas.
The characters, at least the main ones I mentioned above, are easy to read and each have motivations and reasons for being on a private island. The relationships between them develop as the story progresses and we get more of an insight into some of them. It’s refreshing to read a story about characters like this, all from different backgrounds but working together when the time calls for it. Of course, the character that the story is about is that of the Predator, if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have a story.
Which brings me on to the reason I picked the book up in the first place: the Predator. We don’t have many scenes from his point of view, but those we have are fairly effective in setting him up in the typical Predator fashion. Most of the time we see the Predator from other points of view doing what he does – completely isolating the island and going after his prey. The sections when we do follow him make the wait worthwhile, giving extra little bits of information here and there.
When the killing starts the story is pushed up a gear, giving everything more urgency and allowing the reader to really get his teeth into the novel. The attacks are imaginative and brutal, the Predator’s weapons are lethal, from the old favourite wrist blades and plasma canon to my new favourite that fuses all the bones in a body. The action isn’t just limited to what the Predator does either, some of the characters have some great action scenes while engaging the Predator. All of this culminates in a huge battle that ticks every box and has a very satisfying ending.
All in all Predator: South China Sea is a great novel based on the Predator franchise. It follows the rules laid down in the films and adds its own flavour to the mix. Jeff VanderMeer has written a great story that doesn’t have any of the drawbacks I would expect to see from a tie in. One of the most enjoyable things about the reading experience is how easily the visualisation is, the descriptions making the pages come to life. If another Predator movie is made whoever is making it needs to read this book to see how a fresh take on a well established series can add new life to it and take it to the next level. Hell, just film this book and you’ll have a blockbuster.