Horror Book Review: Exoskeleton II: Tympanum (Shane Stadler)

Freed from the Red Box, William Thompson finds himself at the centre of a geo-political conflict spawned from a secret history of scientific and militaristic operations, setting in motion a deadly chain of events that threatens the world.

Carrying directly on from the first book, Exoskeleton, Exoskeleton II Tympanum sees Will Thompson trying to recover from the ordeals of the first book and restart his life but, as expected, things don’t quite work out as planned for him.

A little reminder on the author, the story is written by Shane Stadler who has written many factual books on his work and research as an experimental physicist but this is his second official work of fiction, the first one being the excellent Exoskeleton. I was very impressed with the first book and thought it was well thought out, interesting and packed full of horrendous torture scenes, many of which involved dentistry of some description. Most importantly though was the story was magnetic and the character, Will, was interesting and so I start this sequel with high hopes and one little bit of research to do first – look up the word Tympanum. For those who wish to know, there are a few different definitions for the word ranging from medical connections to the ear drum and archways in architecture but the most likely meaning in the sense of these books is – “a circular, drum like rack upon which victims were tortured” – nice!

So, to the story then, which picks up straight away with Will trying to reinsert himself into normal society but obviously struggling as we are instantly treated to one of many recurring nightmares he now suffers from. He appears to have become close with Denise and Jonathon McDougal during his recovery and Denise is with him, helping, in these early stages.

We then meet a new character, Zhichao Cho, who we soon find out is working on secretively purchasing and recreating the experimental treatment involving the Exoskeleton, Red Wraith, to run back in his homeland, China. As of this stage, nobody knows that the experiment was actually a success in Will’s case but eventually rumours start to spread of his existence and Will becomes the hottest property possible, especially in the eyes of Mr Cho.

A bit of a curve ball comes next as we are treated to a chapter in which a science vessel, listening for whales in the Antarctic Sea are threatened and scared away by an unexpected Russian submarine and while at first, I had no idea what that meant in the context of the story, it does all become very clear, very soon.

Another old character joins us now in the shape of Lenny Butrolsky, the assassin from book one, who has recovered from the injuries received and is in the process of being broken out of police custody.

Another new character arrives next by the name of Daniel Parsons who we find out is part of a secretive group called The Omniscients, who work for the CIA and who are essentially extremely interesting, intelligence analysts. There are usually only 8 or 12 ever in existence. They don’t know each other and nobody knows them and they operate under rules such as not being allowed to travel outside of the country.

Finally we meet the crew of an American submarine captained by Chuck McHenry who are operating in the Antarctic Sea in search of a signal, a beacon, in the area.

The story jumps back in forward between each of these different sets of characters as they pursue their different yet connected tasks and Will is the glue that controls the pace and connections within the story. Will is definitely the main character here but as much page time is often given to the other characters which is great as it means you have a whole load of characters, all with depth.

As the story progresses though it becomes apparent that this book is much more ambitious than the first as it takes things out of a singular prison and makes it a global battle with Russian, Chinese, British and American governments all trying to either protect or capture Will, locate and secure this strange beacon in the sea while intelligence departments try to figure out how this beacon and Red Wraith’s attempts to release the soul from the body can be connected. Oh, and to top it all off you have Lenny trying to clean up his mess from the first book.

Horrible scenarios throughout history, such as The Holocaust, are tied in as the origins of Red Wraith are traced back even as far as Nazi Germany and this story is once again littered with torture (more dentistry too) and, especially in the submarine sections, a huge amount of tension. The book builds in explosiveness until a vicious and action packed ending leads into a huge twist that leaves the book well finished and perfectly positioned for a part three.

I really enjoyed this book and think, like the first, the author has made good use of interesting characters and sub plots to make a book purely packed with content and not just filler. There is genuine tension built in areas and the horror moments are often horrible. My only complaint I guess is that I bought this as a horror sequel and do feel that, by the end of the book, it had moved firmly from being horror to a Science Fiction and Fantasy Adventure with some horrible moments. A minor complaint though as it, most importantly, is a bloody good story and the historical tie-ins are nothing short of brilliantly, weird and wacky at times, but brilliant. Bring on part three!

Exoskeleton II: Tympanum (Shane Stadler)
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