Song of Karma Book 2

Heroes Unleashed Book 7

(4 customer reviews)
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If you take the king’s shilling, you do the king’s killing.

Problems are stacking up for former police officer Adam Song. His court case for killing a drug lord’s son in the line of duty approaches, and it feels like all of Chinatown…and superherodom… are on trial too. The city is a powder keg, and Adam might just be the fire that sets it off.

He has to keep his head low and pay his bills until the entire circus is over. An old spook friend from his military days has a tempting offer for him, but Adam isn’t sure he wants to go back to that life. Government favors come with strings, and Adam is tired of being a puppet.

When his old friend, the abbot of Bright Moon Temple, is threatened from abroad, Adam takes the job to defend him. He needs the money even if the temple can only pay half the normal rate.

What should have been a simple bodyguard job spirals out of control. Even more bodies stack up on Adam’s watch, each one feeding the coals of anger in Halo City.

Can Adam save the Abbot and keep Halo City from burning itself to the ground? And do it all without calling in a favor that will turn him into a shady black-ops weapon?

And who is the shadowy supervillian from Serenity City fanning the flames? Read Unmasked today to find out!

Weight 1 lbs

EBook, Paperback, Hardcover

Book Author

Kai Wai Cheah, Thomas Plutarch

Book Series


4 reviews for Unmasked

Based on 4 reviews
5 star
4 star
3 star
2 star
1 star
  1. declanfinninc (verified owner)

    In the Heroes United world of Silver Empire Press, Kai Wai Cheah’s Adam Song has been described as the Punisher. In Unmasked, that comparison becomes closer.

    I described the first book in Kai Wai Cheah’s Song of Karma, Hollow City, as Larry Correia and Michael Connelly writing a superhero police procedural. Complete with gun porn and noir stylistic writing. This time, our hero, Adam Song is back. By the time we’re done with the first chapter, it feels very much like Richard Chandler, with knife porn instead of gun porn, and superhero action on par with a Hong Kong Wu Xia film.

    It is not a spoiler that Unmasked begins with Adam Song outed as the SWAT superhero Amp. Due to Hollow City being a cross of the worst of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, he’s being prosecuted for murder of a gang-banger and his girlfriend, largely because of political hacks who are all too eager to throw him and the police under the bus. With the pressure building from anti-superhero group “Cape Watch,” and anti-law enforcement hate groups, their first instinct is to throw the book at Adam Song. It’s so bad, the restaurant owned by Adam’s family is under siege by Cape Watch and the gang bangers friends.

    Lest you think that this is being inspired by recent events, I read an ARC of this novel in January. Any and all inspirations from real life were at least five years old before everything old became new again this summer. If Kai Wai Cheah becomes any more predictive, he’s going to give me a run for my money.

    The trial segment is as well written as any trial written by Michael Connelly, and he’s done more than a few. For anyone who has followed the series, the court sequences feels like Connelly’s Harry Bosch is on trial … again. And the trial sequences are all very well put together, and used to great effect. One of the opening trial bits was a great bit of recap. And the trial itself is fast paced and entertaining. Despite how much of the plot it is, the trial itself is only four chapters.

    But while Adam is being prosecuted for murder, he has other old friends pulling at him. “Don Peterson” (assuming that’s his real name) is a part of Adam’s old life in wet work and black bag operations, offering Adam a Faustian bargain to make everything go away if Adam just came back to government service, taking down the supervillains who are too powerful to merely throw in jail. It’s a nice bit of spy thriller that reminds me as the classic Adam Hall Quiller novels, with the sort of deal that will remind the casual reader of Suicide Squad.

    Meanwhile, Adam is keeping busy with a paying job. An old friend, a Bhuddist monk, is being pressured by the People’s Republic of China to come to China … and if he won’t accept the invitation gracefully, they intend to force the issue by any means necessary. It seems like an easy job for a SWAT superhero—until the Chinese reveal a superpowered minion of their own. (I await some people to cry racism against China… until someone realizes that Cheah is a Singapore native.) In short, the People’s Republic of China has not changed in the slightest. China is still China.

    Cheah does a great job of balancing the three plots—fighting China, the trial, and the espionage aspects brought in with the character of Don Peterson. And when they collide in the finale, it will blow you away.

    Or, as the book itself says, “Riots, gangesters, spies and supervillains. It’s going to be a perfect f***ing storm.”

    And it is.

    Over the course of the book, we see Adam balance being a law enforcement officer, versus facing overwhelming threats. Despite edging closer to becoming the Punisher, Adam is still a cop by training, and works hard to stay on the side of the law, even when the lines become just a wee bit blurry. And while the plot may feel like a closer start than the first book, that’s only because the last half as twice the action as the entire first novel.

    And the writing is wonderful to read. The character development is great. All the little touches paint quick, complex characters with ease. I even think the primary Chinese villain here comes from Fist of the North Star, but my anime is rusty. Cheah brings in a large cast of characters, and more of them are original to this novel. It’s a superhero team up story without a large body of characters spread throughout the universe. The descriptions are… well, one villain is referred to as “The Shadowless Ghost,” with “low friends in high places.” Two cops are “a teddy bear paired with a wolf.”

    One paragraph I feel compelled to quote is the opening of chapter one.

    “Everybody wants to be a superhero.
    They want the fast life, filled with adrenaline and excitement and superpower showdowns. They want to haul in the bad guys, show off their scares, earn the adoration of the faceless masses on the Internet. They want the sponsorship deals, corporate paychecks, Gucchi gear, crowdfunded patronage. After that, it’s easy street all the way.
    Funny thing is, it never works out that way.”

    Tell me that isn’t a great opening.

    Cheah also has more humor in this one. The chapter headings are entertaining.

    This corner of Silver Empire’s series has great world building from the aspect of law enforcement and espionage in a world of superpowers. It’s nice to see that the FBI… is still absolutely useless (while they have a Hostage Rescue Team for superpowers, it’s a superpower conflict. By the time they get to the scene of the incident, it’s all over but the screaming. And a lot of the screaming is over too). Cheah goes into the licensing and training for superheroes, and it is … very California. Even the elements with Don Peterson has a very rigorous logic of assassination. Worst of all, Cheah delves into how many superheroes, or “primes” go into public service, and it is so very human.

    And of course, there is the end, which brings together two threads of this universe together with a bang.

    In short (I know, too late), five stars out of five.

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  2. Xavier Basora (verified owner)

    The sequel is as outstanding as the first installment. The story begins with Adam waiting for the trial and being harassed by the cops, Cape watch and the media. However, his life becomes more complicated when Shifu, Adam’s mentor is attacked by what appears a state sanctioned kidnapping by Chinese spies to return him to the homeland. Adam has to seek help from someone in his past who’ll rope him in some hard black ops that makes Scott Harvath and the Executioner look tame by comparison.
    A rather lethal prime is involved. The tension building up the trial is great. The trial is dramatic and compact. It doesn’t take to much time because the aftermath is the real core of the book. The riots are eerily similar to what we witnessed in Minnesota and other cities. The last act reintroduces another hero from a past novel and it was great to see the overt links between Adam and the other hero. What struck me, is the time jump because the second hero is an elderly man in Unmasked while in the other novels he’s young. I’m intrigued.

    My review doesn’t do justice as to just how much fun and entertaining this novel is. It’s a real page turner and the writing is brisk lively and pulpy.
    Buy the book you won’t be disappointed.
    Highly recommended

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  3. Benjamin I. Espen (verified owner)

    Unmasked: Song of Karma book 2 ended up being a very 2020 book. While the events of this book are simply the inevitable consequences of everything that was setup in Hollow City, it feels very much like today with a highly politicized trial of a police officer for a death in the line of duty leading to racially charged riots and civil unrest. Of course, there are also a bunch of people running around with superpowers to spice things up.

    Halo City, Adam’s home and the setting for Unmasked, faces a major crisis in the trial of Adam Song. Much like Adam, HC is locked into an endless cycle of violence because of the consequences of past decisions. Also, much like Adam, it cannot alter this destiny because it is unwilling or unable to change itself in order that justice and mercy might kiss. The fundamentally unsatisfactory situation with both rampant lawlessness and harsh policing continues simply because the people in charge prefer it that way.

    Political power in Halo City comes not from the consent of the governed, nor from technocratic managerial excellence. Rather, it accrues to anyone who can deliver the goods. Accordingly, we see hints that bribery, corruption, and blackmail are the hidden springs that move events within HC. In the past, this all might have even been broadly acceptable to the people at large, as machine politics was often effective at delivering jobs for the boys and protection from rivals. However, decades later, the system has ossified into racial and ethnic enclaves beholden to businesses whose primary advantage is how well-connected they are.

    Something has to change, but change would mean a loss of power and influence for people who are very much used to the status quo, and have the ability to stave off the reckoning, at least for a little while longer. So nothing ever changes. Forget it Adam, this is Halo City.

    Adam, in the other hand, is portrayed more sympathetically than his city and its masters. However, Adam is nonetheless at the beginning of this book precisely what he is accused of being: a vigilante who solves his problems by killing them first. The dark humor of the situation is that Adam, dutiful as he is, would likely not have crossed the line that he did had his employers backed him up. He was, after all, following their rules and doing their bidding when he killed Emmanuel Ruiz and Sofia Vega in the course of serving a warrant.

    Adam wouldn’t even have the money to pay for his lawyer except that he relieved some mid-level criminals of their ill-gotten gains in the last book. Even when he goes rogue, he ends up doing much the same things he did before: shaking down small-fry for information, seizing assets from those unlucky enough to fall in his grasp, and killing those who threaten him or those he cares about. The difference is that once Adam is out on his own, he reverts to his natural sense of justice, rather than the rules of the system in which he is embedded.

    This tension in Adam’s life, between procedural justice of fair play and following the rules, and a sense of equity or just deserts, is both important and utterly unresolved. This theme is heightened in the middle section of the book, when Adam spends a great deal of time protecting a Buddhist monk he knows from kidnapping. I don’t know enough of Buddhism to know whether Cheah plays this part well, but I respect his portrayal of Catholics here and elsewhere, so I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Adam Song’s unfailing sense of justice drives him to do what he does, but it also will not let him rest. The doctrine of karma says that violence is repaid with violence, no matter what its justification. Thus, Adam has no rest, as his nature cannot allow him to sit by when violence is done to others, which brings on endless cycles of strife. While in some ways Adam wants freedom from this cycle, he cannot really act otherwise.

    Something we didn’t really get in book 1 is a sense of how the various books in the Heroes Unleashed work together. Halo City is embedded in a world where Primes are a feature of everyday life. With book 2, we see how events in the broader world begin to affect what happens to Adam, and hints of a grander story lurking in the background. Adam is not as alone in his struggles as he probably feels himself to be.

    What that means, I suppose we shall see.

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  4. tjamarquis (verified owner)

    This is our second outing with Adam Song, aka Amp, in a tense and tightly plotted story with thriller and procedural elements. He’s a no-nonsense kind of hero, willing to use maximum force to defend the innocent, much like the Punisher, but without a hint of the Marvel hero’s anger and possible psychopathy.
    As you can see from the blurb, and if you’ve read book one, Unmasked comes fully armed with multiple sources of tension, primarily the threat of Adam’s conviction for excessive force. Movement from one plot point to the next is smooth and efficient, no time wasted.
    If a scene’s not action packed, it’s setting up a mystery. If not mystery, then intrigue, and just as an answer is revealed, Adam is forced to lay the smack down on his foes. Truly engaging and enjoyable.
    Adam himself is developed further from book one, as his nearly supernatural focus and patience are stress-tested intensely.
    Side characters are distinct and get their jobs done. Foremost among them is Adam’s abbot friend, who gets developed further from our brief interactions with him in book one. I really enjoyed this one, especially the interplay between his religious beliefs, martial practice and Prime power (unlimited stamina).
    My second favorite side hero was Bloodhound, whose special powers you can perhaps guess from his name. We don’t necessarily go too deep with him, but he was still fun to have around.
    Cheah’s got good chops. If you follow him on his blog or Twitter, you know the man writes like a beast, and it shows. Keywords for his prose could be lean, efficient, yet detailed (where it counts).
    In particular he’s got an aptitude for fight sequences, so if you enjoy getting really crunch with the punches and bullets, this is the author for you.
    Cheah’s writing often comes off slightly dry to me, apart from occasional bits of humor. And yet the author’s voice feels strong, pointed, direct and not wasteful of words. I never feel the temptation to skip or skim, because the things he’s describing matter to the story and the characters.
    If I could wish for anything more from Cheah’s prose it would be a slight loosening, allowing a little more humor through onto the page. My brain always places him on my Neal Stephenson shelf, so that may account for this opinion to some degree.
    No matter what he does next I’m happy to follow this author through his next million words and see what comes about!

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