Devil’s Pocket by John Dixon (Gallery, August 4th, 2015)-Following the events of Phoenix Island, Carl Freeman has earned his place as loyal right hand man to Phoenix Island’s overlord, Stark. Carl thinks he’s earned Stark’s trust, even though he’s resisted persistent orders to kill to prove his loyalty. All Carl wants to do is bring him down, and see Octavia again, and he feels like the way to do this is from the inside. Stark, however, always has a few surprises up his sleeve, and he sends Carl, Agbeko, Davis, and new guy Tex to participate in the Funeral Games, deep in the heart of a volcano, in an unknown place. Winners receive 10 million dollars and of course glory, but Carl believes that Stark has a more diabolical reason for sending him. Of course he does, because he’s Stark, and he loves to play games, especially ones that end in death. Carl is almost unstoppable, thanks to a chip that Stark had implanted. He’s stronger and faster, but along with the positive comes the negative, and he struggles to fight the rage and bloodlust that can strike anytime. Carl doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and he absolutely doesn’t want to kill anyone, but he might have to in order to survive.
A little on the Funeral Games: the games are hosted by a group of people called The Few. The Few are super creepy and wear masks. Because they’re creepy. Seriously, you think Stark is bad? Wait until you meet these guys (and gals.) They seem to get off on the violence and Carl is determined not to give them what they want. Carl is put in charge by Stark, but how is he supposed to bring Stark down and keep up the ruse that he’s fighting for the “honor” of Phoenix Island? It’s a tightrope walk, for sure. Carl does find some unexpected allies (including Octavia, who has her own plan), but he’ll have to stay alive, and keep his friends alive, in order to carry out his plan. Carl is tired of seeing people like Stark and The Few subjugate people for their entertainment, but something far more diabolical is going on in that volcano. I’m not going to give that away, but needless to say, The Few are doing bad, bad things in that volcano. Worse than Stark’s island of horrors? They’re both pretty bad, but, well, you’ll see.
The best part of these books is Carl. It’s hard to remember, at times, that he’s really just a kid, but he’s been through so much, so fast, that he’s been forced to stay in control of some very adult situations. It’s that strength that makes him who he is, and of course, he’s a survivor. I really enjoyed Phoenix Island, but Devil’s Pocket is a whole new ball of wax, with lots of fighting (the fight scenes are great), and the setting is rather awesome. There’s an underground lake, and Viking burials, and definitely some very creepy surprises. Lest you think this is all action and no heart, it has lots of heart. Carl, and his friends are damaged and have been forced to do horrible things in their relatively short lives. Agbeko’s story is particularly heartbreaking (seriously, brace yourself, it’s awful), and Davis (who is now a medic), who Carl butted heads with at Phoenix Island, has a tale to tell and it’s pretty bad. I may have cried. Dixon has upped his game in this one, and I can’t wait for the next book!