Title: Waking Jamal (Valhalla Initiative #1)
Author: Amberly Smith
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: March 25, 2016
Genre(s): Military/Science Fiction
Page Count: 200
Reviewed by: Kristin
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Their physical and mental survival depends on them bonding.
Jamal Zumati joins the military, determined to repay the country that fed and housed him. But during his Hamask activation, his senses go offline and he enters a berserker rage. The United States Hamrammr Program, or USHP, has only one option: put him into hibernation.
Despite his extraordinary ability to read and manipulate situations, Vargr Lt. Rum Walker has stepped on one too many brass toes, and the USHP demoted him back to teaching new candidates. Rum is one paranoid thought away from self-destruction when he is recruited for a covert mission: pull Jamal from hibernation.
The problem is, no one has ever survived a berserker fury—at least not officially. If Rum is to challenge the military stereotypes, he’ll not only need to wake Jamal—he’ll need to get him to agree to be bond as a Hamra Pair, the ultimate supersoldier team.
When Jamal and Rum team up with an FBI Hamra Pair to stop the terrorist group Dios Provee, Rum thinks he’ll show Jamal their true potential lies in an equal partnership, but Jamal is convinced Rum should take the lead. Will Rum stop Jamal from going berserk again and destroying both of their futures?
I really enjoyed this because it was refreshingly different from other scifi military books I’ve read. Waking Jamal dabbled a bit with Norse mythology, not quite sliding over into the realm of paranormal shifters, with a foot in the military future, and hot soldier romance, Waking Jamal made for an engaging read.
The concept of Vargr (wolf) and Hamask (bear) paring – known as a Hamrammer team – was an interesting one. The idea that certain individuals are suited for “activation” but require a counterpart to ground them was rather cool. That this bonding process could be more than just combat soldier was a good addition, each pair would be suited to a niche, rather than pure field soldier.
I enjoyed watching Jamal and Ryan, aka “Rum”, navigate their new relationship with the pitfalls of self-doubt, second guessing, and uncertainties of what they were feeling, all compounded by the expectations of the Military Hamrammr Program and threat of termination if this pairing didn’t work out.
While I really enjoyed the storyline, I had a few concerns: I would have liked to have seen the Vargr/Hamask process elaborated upon: more background as to the why-for and where-how this came to be and why Rum felt the whole process was antiquated and outdated. I got that he was angry with the assumption of sex equals bonding, and Rum alluded to more, but I thought it should have been spelled out – what was he after exactly?
Through the excerpts of Longwei and Bur, the FBI counterparts, the reader learns of another fury based pairing, but that idea that Hamask who have furied could be saved was somewhat lost in the rest of the plot.
Middle of the book, Jamal and Rum are sent on their first mission – to save Wick, a Vargr held by Dios Provee. However, Wick didn’t want to be extracted, there was the smell of lavender and rice starch, Jamal went into sense overload…aaannnd cut to mission over and Jamal and Rum being debriefed with their partnership under threat of dissolution. Wick shows up later. I’m left confused. I even went back and re-read those chapters, thinking I missed something. Still confused.
So, I thought plot could have benefited from being longer, or, from being broken into two parts or books: one a Hamask put into hibernation due to fury can be re-activated, Ryan and Jamal’s relationship and how to improve the program and two: then build up going after Dios Provee with Longwei and Bur.
I think there were so many cool ideas spilling out that plot began to feel somewhat rushed and choppy toward the ending: as Jamal and Rum shifted into new roles under the Valhalla Program, great change happening, and BAM! now a secret mission that went sideways and more that I’m not going to spoil.
But, really, this was a really cool read – the scifi was nicely supported by believable tech, I liked the relationship between Jamal and Ryan, the military was its usual anachronistic self, and the premise of the Hamrammr Program interesting. I would really like to see more from this universe.