Carol Kean's Reviews > Karl Thorson and the Jade Dagger

Karl Thorson and the Jade Dagger by Ken Lizzi
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it was amazing

Hollywood needs to give us Ken Lizzi movies!

As promised, I'm back with a more detailed review of this excellent book.

Thanksgiving week, busy with family, was not a good time to happen across a new Ken Lizzi novel. Four other ebooks were in my queue (reviews overdue or nearly so) and I vowed to save Karl Thorson until I'd read and reviewed the others.

Final Score: Ken Lizzi wins! Four other authors are put on hold!

Karl Thorson is an awesome character. Our first view of him is mesmerizing: "Oncoming tourists parted before him, the breadth of his shoulders making his near six-feet seem somehow even taller. Even some of those moving the same direction slipped aside, as if sensing his presence."

The man is a wonder: a hybrid, half Nordic/Viking and half Mexican. His mother was "proud of Mexico’s Mesoamerican past and, thus, her heritage. She’d ensured he’d grown up with ghoulish tales of Mictlan and Xibalba, just as his dad had embellished Karl’s childhood with tales of the Aesir and Vanir."

The diminutive professor he's hired to protect, May, is not your usual fictional female in need of a hero. She is quick and resourceful and very useful, not helpless, in the face of danger.

Lizzi's villains are also delightful: Alejandra, the bad^ss woman running a drug cartel. Strong women characters are a hallmark of Lizzi's fiction, and this female jefe is so awesome, I hate knowing she's a villain and will have to go down, one way or another. She kills so swiftly and deftly, it's hard not to admire her. When she uses fear as a motivator, I start remembering how much I hate tyrants:

...insolence driven out by fear. That is what Alejandra needed to see. Without that fearful respect, how could a woman expect to maintain her control over an organization like this? If she had to bury another body in the jungle, she would. This stupid puta might serve Alejandra better as an example than as a cook.

Dexicos, the demon (in human form) whose been around for centuries, is a powerful but endearingly ridiculous being. Small human touches bring him to life. E.g., he likes rotary phones and "found pleasure in the precision and ritual of dialing the numbers that keypads could not replicate." And I love how he quotes human writers like Nietzche.

The quintessential Ken Lizzi hero
has certain traits we love and want more of. War-hardened, battle-weary, resourceful, smart, decent and humane, and a fun drinking buddy. We all wanna know a guy like that, right?

Karl has flaws and sketchy friends, e.g.

his network of informants; old Special Ops buddies now running dive shops, military contractors edging into the shadier side of mercenary work, a few outright criminals.

We can count on certain things in this hero:

He has a conscience:
A pity he had to run. But he was outgunned here and his objective was only reconnaissance. Besides, he had no business putting May at risk merely for the personal satisfaction of fighting back.

Stoic and pragmatic:
He seldom bothered hoping for the best. He didn’t hope much at all; so much time wasted that could more profitably be spent on planning and preparation.

A realist, a cynic, but not a pessimist:
Any illusions he’d ever had about fair play had long since been beaten from him by roadside bombs, ambushes, and drone launched missiles.

“Hope is irreplaceable. It underpins all religion, all belief systems.”

Cool and calm and always rational,
even under fire.

The trick to surviving a gunfight was to remain calm. Unfortunately, the human body’s programmed response to a threat was the precise opposite. It wanted to ramp up the nerves, dump adrenaline into the system, attack screaming and flailing or run like hell. None of that helped aiming. A couple of methods helped overcome the fight or....

... The second was repetition of the tasks likely to be required in a fight, hammer them into muscle memory so those actions could be performed almost unconsciously, undermining the fight-or-flight instinct’s attempt to hijack the brain.

He suffers:

Karl hadn’t gone through sniper school, so he hadn’t been trained in enduring the torture of remaining motionless for hours in uncomfortable positions.


Karl was moving, the powerful muscles built through endless series of squats and deadlifts uncoiled like a spring, pushing him up from his crouching position and off to his right.

The memory of that thing closing about him remained fresh. Those ribs, or limbs, or whatever they were folded around him, moving simultaneously with both the precision of one of those elaborate seventeenth century clockwork mechanisms and the organic smoothness of an insect.


Nietzsche might not have been so keen on thinking cosmically rather than individually if he’d known the cosmos contained horrors such as that – demon. Karl didn’t really like the term demon, with the hellish connotations of the word. But it seemed to fit. What had he stumbled upon?

Erudite? An action hero? Yes!
Lizzi's heroes are not just pragmatic and rational, but well-read.

“Did he just quote Nietzsche?” Professor Allison asked Professor Chen. “He does that,” May said. “I haven’t decided yet if it’s endearing or annoying.”

Karl's reading list includes "(primarily classics recommended by his mother), a couple of popular histories, a pocket Shakespeare, Don Quixote (in the original Spanish) and a battered copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra."

More quotable quotes, in no particular order:

"I figure over the course of human history all models of morality have been tried at one point or another. Nothing new under the sun, right? But I like to read Nietzsche to remind myself to remain flexible. Keep an open mind.”

"For me, the point of life, other than to continue to live, is to stave off boredom.”

... “You don’t want to rule the world like any self-respecting second rate megalomaniac?”

Control and manipulation depended as much upon disinformation as overt power.

Besides, a part of him was beginning to enjoy this game of cat and mouse. A Nietzschean conception, one which he’d considered as amusingly overblown as many of the great philosopher’s other exhortations, now felt relatable. He felt the “eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity – that joy which includes even joy in destroying.

He preferred not to contemplate the ruined husks of the dead, especially not when he’d caused that death. That kind of thinking could lead down dark rabbit holes he’d rather avoid. Better to ponder practicalities.

When the mind is extinguished, that is the end. I do not wish to end. I wish to endure. I admit to a certain weariness. That is why I indulge myself in such activities as this, my little game with the Jade Dagger.

Lizzi's excellent vocabulary has me, with my degree in English teaching, sheepishly using Kindle's built-in dictionary. Most of these words I've seen and kinda remember the meanings but the older I get, the harder it is to retain them - like, how many times do I have to look up puissant? I totally believed horripilation was a manufactured word until thinking "This is Ken Lizzi. Look it up."

horripilation, n. The bristling of the body hair, as from fear or cold; goosebumps.

This is definitely great material for a Hollywood blockbuster - darkly comic and Quentin Tarantino-violent with the drug cartel accidentally ending up next door to the archeologists and then coming face to face with Karl, who may be more fearsome than the sorcerer.

So many epic scenes and memorable lines! #gottalove Karl, #gottalove May!! This is a book you don't want to miss.
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Reading Progress

November 20, 2019 – Started Reading
November 20, 2019 – Shelved
November 26, 2019 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Booth WONDERFUL review!

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