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A BLANKET OF STEEL

While the political intrigue is lacking, the narrative propels at an appealing pace.

In Johnston’s SF novel, one in a series, an aquatic separatist is targeted for revenge.

In the year is 2131, due mostly to environmental factors, much of the human population now lives in colonies on the ocean floor. Truman McClusky is the mayor of one such colony, called Trieste City. He and the leaders of 14 other colonies declare independence from any of the surface countries like the United States or China. This collection of 15 declares itself a nation called Oceania. McClusky and the others know this act will spark conflict, and they have made preparations. A Russian captain named Ivan Arkady Ventinov has it out for McClusky: after the loss of a mighty Russian sub known as the Drakon in an earlier book in this series, Ventinov is hungry for revenge. He hires a mysterious assassin known as the Steel Shiv; no one knows who the Steel Shiv is, though McClusky gets clued in that this “master of disguise” is after him. McClusky and his close associates respond to trouble with action that ranges from close range combat to torpedo-fueled attacks. The result is a thriller that keeps moving from confrontation to confrontation. Technological details, such as an explanation on the importance and history of graphene, emerge from the story to help make this world seem possible. Though such worldbuilding (the book includes occasional schematics of vessels and structures) is welcome, some of the political aspects of the narrative can prove lackluster; McClusky’s independence speech does not make for particularly inspiring oratory with statements like “We have the fastest armed seacars in the oceans.” Still, with constant danger and the vast depths of the ocean as a setting, there is always reason to keep reading.

While the political intrigue is lacking, the narrative propels at an appealing pace.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2023

ISBN: 978-1554556281

Page Count: 511

Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2024

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TOM CLANCY ACT OF DEFIANCE

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Echoes of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October reverberate four decades after the late author’s famous debut.

In 1984, Dimitri Gorov plans to deliver details of the advanced Soviet submarine Red October to the Americans, but Marko Ramius has already defected and delivered the boat itself. Gorov dies and now, decades later, his son Konstantin captains the Belgorod, Russia’s most advanced sub. Said sub goes rogue along with its nuclear-tipped torpedoes that can penetrate American defenses and blow up some of our coastal cities, or “wipe the American Atlantic fleet off the map.” Driven by multiple grievances, Konstantin wants to do just that, but a painful illness may bring him down. Meanwhile, young Navy lieutenant Kathleen (Katie, please) Ryan plays one of several key roles in trying to stop World War III. She’s smart and appealing and tries hard to downplay the fact that she’s President Jack Ryan’s daughter—“Daddy’s little girl,” as a snarky officer says to her face. In one nail-biting scene a helicopter tries to transfer her from a ship to a submarine in the open ocean. As with every novel in the series, readers are treated to a ton of technical details and asides that slow the reading occasionally, but without which it would not be a Clancy yarn. And of course, there is the obligatory establishment of what fine all-around Americans the Ryans are. Plenty of well-crafted characters, Russian and American, make up the cast. War begins to brew as a Russian MiG is shot down and troubles threaten to escalate. At one point, Katie “felt like the entire world was barreling toward oblivion and she was the only one who could stop it.” But wait: Late in the game, Konstantin muses, “There is nothing the Americans can do to stop me.” Who is right? Hmm, that’s a tough one. In her proud father’s mind, Lieutenant Ryan becomes “Katie—my little girl turned naval officer overnight.”

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9780593422878

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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DARK ANGEL

A female-forward thriller that makes a strong case that smart, unflinching women should run the world.

Letty Davenport seeks to infiltrate a group of freelance hackers in order to thwart their next project—or maybe to help it along.

Ordinary People, an anti-MAGA cabal of lefties, has already pulled off a string of small-scale disruptions, and the word from the CIA is that they plan to take down the power in the Twin Cities, where Letty grew up. Sen. Christopher Colles, the unofficial boss who’s been impressed by Letty’s unflappable skills with weaponry, wants her to pose as the girlfriend of National Security Agency computer specialist Rod Baxter as he seeks to hook up with Ordinary People across the country in California. After their first attempt goes spectacularly wrong, their forces are beefed up by CIA operative Barbara Cartwright and Department of Homeland Security investigator John Kaiser, who worked with Letty in The Investigator (2022), and they succeed in getting close to Craig Sovern, a prominent Ordinary Person who’s already been wreaking havoc on a number of railroad trains and plans to go bigger and bolder. And these aren’t just any trains. Realizing that Ordinary People’s attacks on the hate-fueled social media platform SlapBack may be a sign that their larger operations are providing an important service to the cause of world peace, Letty and her peeps switch from trying to bring down the organization to trying to protect it from the likes of Russian agent Arseny Stepashin and his trusted contractor Tom Boyadjian—all while keeping everything hush-hush. Yeah, right. Sandford alternates brisk action sequences with a steady stream of revelations that make equivocal players and their ambiguous relations even more complicated.

A female-forward thriller that makes a strong case that smart, unflinching women should run the world.

Pub Date: April 11, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422410

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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