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A teenager-against-the-world techno-thriller about a young Alaskan hacker and his battle with Russia after a nuclear strike on the United States.

Eric Palmer, role-playing game addict and prodigy hacker, gets roused one morning by his father, who believes the reports that a Russian terrorist has taken over a missile-launch facility and will fire on Alaska imminently. In true slacker fashion, Eric won’t get up and the police forces his family to leave him and vacate the area. As Eric finally makes his way to a shelter close by, the rumors and speculations crystallize in a terrifying blast of neutrinos—the Russians really have reared their heads and struck, and the terrorist group was only a clever Soviet-style ruse designed to excuse the nation at large. Thus Tarrant throws readers into the scrambling action and dread of life beyond brinksmanship. Stranded initially in a fallout shelter, Eric seems to take things in fair stride with only a copy of The Sound of Music to keep him company. There are a few nagging questions that distract from the early narrative—Did the United States retaliate? Would the United States really accept Russia’s stance that it won’t bargain with terrorists? Why isn’t Eric more terrified? Despite some of these loose threads on the suspension of disbelief, the author works in a crisp, punctuated style that moves in blessed efficiency—especially in a genre which often finds its practitioners gorging themselves on impossibly ornate details and extraneous exercises in melodramatic atmosphere. There’s none of that fat in this taut volume. Eric meets a roughneck resistance leader and a definite love interest, and then breezily hacks into the eponymous Elephant Cage, a secret military facility dedicated to intelligence and command. From there, Eric must save America from a Napoleonic Russian hell-bent on finally increasing the empire. It’s not believable for a second, but the book reads well and the characters are lots of fun—readers will keep burning through pages to get to the novel’s sly conclusion, where America hits those devious Russians where it really counts.

 Outlandish but exciting entertainment for fans of technology, geopolitics and even romance.


Pub Date: March 19th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0615430799
Page count: 274pp
Publisher: Bert Tarrant
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2011