Until two weeks ago there was only one book that I disliked enough to use the word “hate”. I know I’ve spoken here and on Your Book is Why Daddy Drinks about my disregard for Gone With the Wind, but, truly, I hate that book. I dislike the plot; I found the main character annoying, dull, and unsympathetic; but, really, the reason has more to do with the circumstances around why I had to read it and what came after I’d read it.
In high school GWtW was the “required” summer reading for my junior-year honors English class. That’s not why I hate it. It’s not even that I had to read the book while on vacation, thus making it so I couldn’t read books I would enjoy. No, it’s that when school started I was one of four people in a 20+ person honors English class who had read the stupid book, a handful of people that didn’t even include the teacher’s son who was in the class with me, and instead of punishing those people and holding them to some sort of standard she gave those of us who read the book a measly ten extra credit points, not even enough to raise a grade on one of her quizzes.
But now I have a book I hate on its merits alone and that would be Ghost by John Ringo.
You may have heard about Ghost and John Ringo by the “OH JOHN RINGO NO!” meme. Created over on LJ on this post, it is a mantra to shout when what you’re reading, in this case the works of John Ringo, is so horrible that you need to reset your brain.
It should be noted that, with little exception, I agree with everything said in Hradzka’s review.
But let us not rest on the shoulders of those who have come before us, let us move on
Ghost is a three-part novel where the greater novel is divided into three sub-books, each with their own plot arcs that have, IMO, little to do with each other beyond small, connecting details. The main character of the book, and series, is a guy named Mike Harmon, codename Ghost, a former US Navy SEAL who has been honorably discharged after years of service. It is important to note that we are told early on that he is 50% disabled with joint and spine injuries (“Fifteen years in the teams had left him with degenerative damage in half the major joints in his body and a back that was compacted enough for a fifty-year-old”). Keep that in mind while we discuss the plot of this book.
The first book is “Winter Born”, the title of a Cruxshadows song which features prominently in this series (not a shocker considering the lyrics). “Winter Born” introduces us to Mike Harmon. While he is recreationally stalking a female student on his college campus (I’ll explain later) Mike witnesses said co-ed being kidnapped by a group of Middle Eastern men. He chases down the van they drive off in, hitches a ride on it by clinging to a ladder on the rear of the van, and is taken to a warehouse where he discovers an Al Queda terrorist cell operating out of Georgia. The terrorists, apparently, are kidnapping young women and shipping them to parts unknown for nefarious reasons and Mike, being a (former) Navy SEAL, breaks into the warehouse, disarms a terrorist of his (conveniently) silenced sub-machine gun, kills him, and proceeds to kill every other terrorist (about ten or more) in the warehouse single-handedly but not before a moving truck full of drugged, nubile, young women gets away. Keep in mind, he’s supposedly 50% disabled.
Now, before we continue you must understand that in the Ghost universe nearly every female is beautiful with breasts that sit “high and tight” as John Ringo is fond of saying. Even when such details are unimportant to the plot we’re told of the attractiveness of the woman in question (such as a chopper pilot, who we’re told “was a short-coupled brunette with moderate breasts and shapely legs”, who exists in the world of Ghost for all of five or six pages and has no bearing on the story at all aside from expanding word count). The only women who aren’t attractive are those that Mike Harmon doesn’t want to have sex with or who are supposed to be distasteful, such as a French government secretary in the third book. I’ll save the breaking down of this particular theme later on.
Mike follows the truck to a near-by airport and sneaks onboard via the landing gear compartment. He survives the trek across the ocean and winds up in Syria, sneaks off the plane, makes it through the airport undetected, gets onto the moving truck the shipment of fifty American women has been loaded on to (by clinging to the undercarriage). He then manages to hold on while the truck goes to a secret Al Queda base in Syria called Aleppo Four, the site of a hidden chemical and biological WMD production facility. The reason why the girls have been kidnapped is so that they can be tortured, raped, and murdered on camera in an effort to scare the United States out of the Middle East.
But they didn’t count on (the 50% disabled) Ghost, who not only manages to make his way through the base undetected, but, in the process of freeing the girls and holding off a battalion of Syrian army soldiers and mujahideen, also kills not only the Syrian president Basser Assad but Osama Bin Laden as well. Mike, of course, is shot several times but bravely fights on, holding the door against all comers until the US military is able to crush Syrian resistance, make it to Aleppo Four, and retrieve Mike and the girls. For his troubles Mike is given $30 million and a special type of witness protection which basically turns him into an uber US Marshall, allowing him to own, carry, and use a wide variety of fantastical firearms a normal citizen couldn’t.
Now, all of this sounds, in summary, way out there, but, really, is it that different from any slew of ’80’s action films (especially anything featuring Chuck Norris)? No, not really, and it has a distinctly Inglorious Bastards feel to it, but the complete unbelievable concept of this story, that a character could pull this off regardless of how disabled they are, isn’t the reason why I hate this book.
The reason why I hate this book is Mike Harmon.
You see, Mike Harmon, despite being the protagonist, is not what I would call a hero. First of all, he’s such a stereotype of a Right Wing conservative with a healthy dose of liberal-hating, misogyny, homophobia, and racism that he’s almost a caricature of unlikeability. But that’s not even the real reason why I hate him, although it certainly made me dislike him.
No, our hero, you see, is a rapist. Well, rapist-at-heart, because he understands that raping someone would be bad and so he struggles against that part of himself and hates men who give in. I mean, he hates it even more than “listening to leftist bitches scream about ‘western civilization’ and how it was so fucked up”.
Starting to see why I hate this book?
Oh, and that part I quoted? That’s on page thirteen.
Before that we’re treated to a look into Mike Harmon’s head, a scary place full of Right Wing politics and anger management issues. Liberals, you see, piss him off, female liberals especially. The experience of going to a college and hearing liberal ideas fills him with so much anger and frustration that he needs to blow off some steam and since he can’t do that by killing someone (which he talks about on page ten and intimating that it would possibly be one of those “little airhead bitches” or one of his professors), he takes to stalking random women around campus.
You see, Mike got his code name because he can supposedly blend in with any population (not that he ever does this in the entire book) to the point where he can hide himself. He also has the uncanny knack of being able to stand really still which tends to cause people’s eyes to just glance over him. So he uses this skill to go creepily stand around campus (“Sick but oh so very fun” as he describes what he does) and staring at women passing by. Sometimes, for extra giggles, he’ll do something like cough to let them know a creepster is hiding in the shadows. But it’s ok, because “he considered it to be instructional for the little idiots. It might teach them to keep some situational awareness.”
Then there’s this little bit. Mike Harmon has just rescued the woman who was kidnapped. The scene is she has just witnessed him kill a bunch of men who, until he showed up, were going to rape her. She is covered in blood and bits of former terrorist:
“What’s your name, Blondie?”
“Ashley,” the girl said, whimpering. “Oh please tell me you’re not going to hurt me!”
“Hell, no,” Mike snorted, searching through the papers. “I’m one of the good guys. Sort of. I’d like to, mind you. Girls all tied up and covered in blood are a real turn-on.”
No, I’m not kidding. And he says shit like this throughout the first book. And then there’s this gem:
“Well,” he said, grinning, “if you ever see me again, for the first time, be overwhelmed by a wave of lust and need to give me a blowjob right then and there, even if it’s in public. Okay?”
“Sure,” Ashley said, shaking her head. “Men. Maybe not in public, but we’ll talk, okay? This has…”
“Don’t let this put you off of men, God damnit.[sic]” Mike said, firmly. “I didn’t risk my fucking life to have you go lesbo. All men aren’t these filth. And if you decide they are, you’re spitting on what I did. Because the good guys want to get laid too. Understand?”
And that’s where we get to one of the major themes of the Paladin of Shadows series: women are for sex. Period. Little else. Mike’s impetus here, for the rescue, isn’t to save her because it’s right, it’s because he wants to fuck her. Her becoming a lesbian, and thus being unavailable for a man, is worse than her being kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered to the point where if her going lesbian is the result of her experience, Mike might as well have not done anything.
He’s constantly making sexual comments to women, even women who have just witnessed one of their number tortured, raped, and murdered in front of them. When he walks in on the scene of one of the women being raped (who also has had large patches of her skin flensed) we’re treated to reading about how turned on the sight makes him.
“Who are you?”
“A very bad man,” Mike said, stooping down and going through the guy’s pockets. “Who, in this one case, is willing to be a good guy for a while. But if I don’t get at least a blowjob out of this, I’m going to be mighty pissed.”
Another theme through this first book is that liberals are weak and so anti-military, anti-America that they’d go so far as to almost blame the girls for getting kidnapped themselves. But that’s ok, the brave actions of Mike Harmon are able to not only get women who were kidnapped and threatened with rape to promise him head, but also convert them to being life-long Republicans from that point on.
The thing that disturbs me is that I know there are people out there who like this book because they identify with Mike Harmon. That they agree with his politics and the way he talks to and about women. That there are men out there filled with similar urges and that this book, in some small way, might have them feel that such things are acceptable.
Now, all of this aside, there are some small things that I found myself enjoying. John Ringo, at least, writes good action (albeit ’80’s action movie action/combat but still) and there was a touching scene between the chief of the SEAL team sent in to rescue them and one of the girls that I thought was well done. Regardless, the utter unpalatable nature of Mike Harmon as a main character overshadows everything. It’s like having a bowl with a few, really good strawberries in it that you’ve covered in rancid, clotted cream. No matter how good the strawberries might be, they’re still surrounded by horribleness.
Book Two is titled “Thunder Island”. Mike Harmon, now rich and empowered as an uber-US Marshall, has “retired” off the Florida Keys. He’s used some of his bounty money to purchase a decently sized yacht for himself and spends his days cruising the Keys and the surrounding waters fishing, relaxing, and doing whatever else he wants. While he’s there he meets two young women by names of Pam and Courtney, two college students who are there on summer vacation. He strikes up a conversation with them, invites them out fishing, and, long story short, engages them both in a hardcore BDSM relationship.
Like you do.
And no, I’m not kidding.
Book Two, primarily, is about this growing relationship. There’s discussion of BDSM concepts such as safe-words, the difference between sadism-maschoism and dominance-submission. There are conversations on the concepts regarding consent and what it is to sub. All the while set with this tropical background of yachting, swimming, fishing, and island life.
The oddest thing about all of this is, strangely, Mike Harmon.
The Mike Harmon of Book Two is not the Mike Harmon of Book One. While this Mike Harmon does make a few statements that could be seen as dismissive of women in general, or insulting the intelligence of Pam and Courtney in particular, he never once makes the assumption they owe him sex for anything he does for them. On the contrary, he is constantly telling them that there are no strings attached, that if they want to leave at any time they can and he’s just doing this (offering them a place to stay on the boat, the fishing, the cruising, etc) because he’s enjoying their company. He doesn’t even hit on them, really, when he first meets them and even apologizes for the perception that he might’ve been.
And yes, while he does make reference to his dark nature, and you see it in how he acts out his BDSM scenes, it’s not nearly as bad as Book One because of the repeated insistence of A) consent and B) the expressed power of the sub (i.e. Pam and Courtney) to end things at any time. You get the sense that he has genuine affection and respect for the two women beyond their use as an outlet for his sexual desires.
This Mike Harmon likes to cuddle.
I actually found myself liking this Mike Harmon. After “Winter Born” I felt like I’d woken up on Bizarro World.
Hardcore BDSM scenes aside, it wouldn’t be a Paladin of Shadows book without a terrorist threat. While out having fun of various kinds, Mike is called up by his government handler in witness protection and told to “go active”. His assignment is to go find a group of terrorists who are attempting to smuggle a nuke into the US via the Bahamas and stop them. Mike, of course, takes the assignment and manages to succeed despite getting shot up. He even survives the nuke going off.
It should be noted that John Ringo spent over one hundred pages developing Mike’s relationship with the two women and all of their sex scenes and less than forty having Mike stop a nuclear attack.
Between Book Two and Book One I enjoyed Book Two more although it felt weird to read after the first one; it was almost like the literary version of watching two different actors (with their own methods and interpretations of a character) playing the same character. The approach to the BDSM felt mature and in some ways real although having both girls’ parents be kinky as well (and swingers; don’t ask) was a bit much to be believed (but funny though). The combat, again, was well written but starting to get tired because the terrorists are almost comically bad at what they do.
My main issue is…what’s the point? I mean, theme-wise, feel-wise, this is a completely different character than the guy we just read about in Book One (hell, B1 Mike Harmon almost happily admits that he’s a rapist at heart and a bad guy but B2 Mike Harmon does everything in his power to be a good guy and says he isn’t a rapist); it feels like these books were written with some space in between them and that John Ringo didn’t have a very good grasp of who he wanted Mike Harmon to be. The only time he calls the two women an insulting term is in the context of a BDSM scene, otherwise he’s all about the cuddling, group hugs, and “I really value your company and friendship.”
Differences in feel between the first two books aside, this book also felt the weakest plot-wise and I have to wonder if it was added as fan service (because of the sex scenes) and to pad out the word count. The only real arc of the book is the relationship building between Mike and the girls so it doesn’t really match up with the other two books since those two are primarily focused on the foiling of terrorist plots where as the terrorist plot in this book almost feels tacked on due to a sense of obligation.
Unfortunately, in Book Three, “On the Dark Side”, John Ringo figures out who he wants Mike Harmon to be and he’s actually worse than B1 Mike Harmon.
Book Three opens up with Mike in Russia having screwed his way through the brothels of Eastern Europe, hopping from one country to the next when he discovers what their women look like. He is, fairly randomly, approached in a bar by a female prostitute who just happens to have an old Russian nuke for sale and wants to know if he would like to buy it.
Yes, I’m not kidding; she just walks up and offers to sell it to him because he’s American, rich, and looks like a “player”.
The only problem is that other people purchased the nuke first. You can guess what kind of people (hint: the word describing them begins with a T and rhymes with “errorist”). Mike, of course, goes active, calls his handler, and kicks off an international nuke hunt (warning: pronounce “nuke hunt” very, very carefully in mixed company).
What follows is a game of “find the nuke” where Mike makes strange leaps of logic that just happen to pan out. From Russia he figures that the Chechens that purchased the nuke moved it in a van not unlike the vans used by Chechen sex traffickers to move sex slaves in an international sex slave market in Bosnia. Mike goes there, finds the van, finds where they stored the nuke, but doesn’t find the nuke, which has been modified by being encased in lead (to mask the radiation it puts off), boobytrapped, and made to look like a car’s generator. Mike makes a random guess that the terrorists are going to try to blow up the pope when he goes to visit Paris, turns out to be correct, flies to Holland where he tracks down the person behind the pope-nuking plot in a brothel (picking out the right brothel out of all the brothels in Amsterdam), shoots him, takes his modified cell phone and makes a 50-50 choice on which code will deactivate the bomb and saves the French (whom he has as much respect for as liberals).
During all of this he takes a much needed rape break. No, I did not mistype. In Bosnia he goes to a brothel, finds a prostitute, and brutally rapes her. Sure, he paid her pimp for her time, but he takes this woman in ways he knows will hurt her, getting more and more turned on by it. He rapes her over and over again. Rapes her and tells her how much he likes it.
Mike Harmon, the guy who hates rapists because at heart he’s a rapist and didn’t give in to his urges in Book One, the same guy who was super concerned about not abusing Pam and Courtney in Book Two, does the very thing that part of his supposed moral code is based on. And he does it happily as a method of stress reduction.
But he’s still a cuddler.
“I’ve raped you,” Mike said brutally, pulling out her gag. “Now I’m going to sleep with you. And if you try to run, or steal anything, I will wake up. You will sleep right here, with me, until I’m ready to get up. If you try to get away, you will be beaten. Do you understand?”
“Get over here,” Mike said, pulling the covers back, then lying down on the bed and pulling the girl to him. He forced her to spoon with him, facing the wall. “Don’t try to run.”
The girl was gently crying, but she nodded. She smelled of fear and he still found that incredibly exciting…”
But it’s ok, because in the end he pays her for it and apologizes.
“I’m not particularly proud of that side of me,” Mike said as he pulled on his clothes. “It comes out from time to time, but I don’t like it.”
Which is plainly bullshit considering two pages back he plainly said, “I like hurting you. I like scaring you. I like raping you.”
This is the hero of John Ringo’s series. After the scene with the prostitute I had to think very hard if I wanted to finish the last fifty pages of this book.
Having finished Ghost I’m honestly not sure what to write. I’ve been told by people that John Ringo had the idea for it lurking in his head and he wrote it to keep it from distracting him on other projects but I have to wonder what the hell is going on inside the head of John Ringo where he thought this was cool. What does it say about him as an author where a person like Mike Harmon is the protagonist and cast in the role of hero? What does it say about the people who’ve bought into this book series? I know that if someone told me they liked this book I would definitely question whether or not I wanted to continue to know them personally.
But, really, Mike Harmon puts my confusion regarding the “Why?” question about this book perfectly himself.
“Why the fuck do I do these things?” Mike asked quietly. “I go charging in to save some girls that could care less about ‘my kind.’ I get shot up stopping a nuke for a country that doesn’t even know I exist? I took it on myself to DESTROY PARIS! WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING!?” he ended in a shout that was very near a primal scream.
What the fuck indeed.
Do not buy Ghost because then you will have to explain why you spent money on a book that glorifies a woman-hating rapist. Do not read Ghost because if you do it will scar you in such a way that people will question your taste, and whether or not you are secretly a liberal-hating, misogynistic, homophobic, rapist douche bag, forevermore.