In this military thriller, a coup in North Korea begets civil war, which, given the country’s chemical and nuclear weapons, could have worldwide repercussions.
The apparent redeployment of North Korean troops from the Demilitarized Zone surprises South Korean and American officers alike. They rightly surmise that a coup is under way against Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Kim’s initially rumored assassination becomes a reality when millions who tuned in to the leader’s televised announcement witness his death. The resultant fighting in North Korea is between three factions: the Kim family, the Korean Workers’ Party, and the military. But other nations especially worry about North Korea’s “nuclear stockpile.” South Korea sends army units to secure the area by tackling the North’s nuclear facilities and chemical-weapons depots. North Korean civilians trying to escape via the country’s border with China, meanwhile, are getting shot by Chinese soldiers stationed there. Camps set up for the refugees are quickly overwhelmed by the staggering number of people who need food and water. China, like everyone else, is apprehensive about Kim’s armaments. The country decides to march troops into North Korea to find and destroy the nuclear weapons on its own. But an altercation between China and South Korea/U.S. allies is feasible and might spark a war. This swiftly paced, 510-page novel is a sequel to Bond’s 1989 Red Phoenix (with Patrick Larkin). A beginning recap forgoes any necessity to read the previous book, though it’s a treat to see returning characters like Col. Kevin Little at the DMZ. There’s no real central character, giving the narrative an appropriate expansiveness among its Korean, American, Chinese, and even Russian characters. Hero status is shared, too, and standouts include Col. Rhee Han-gil, who leads a brigade covertly into North Korean territory, and Cho Ho-jin, a spy for the Russians who ultimately aligns with South Korea. Bond and Carlson (Lash-Up, 2015, etc.) bounce the story from scene to scene like a tightly edited action movie, an impressive tempo kick-started in the opening when Little’s immediately under fire trying to help potential defectors fleeing to South Korea.
Readers should hardly notice the novel’s epic length, breezing through laudable characters and a global plot running at full tilt.