“Book Review: When Totems Fall”
Reviewed by Gary Corbin
A page-turning political/military thriller with dueling protagonists and a tech quotient high enough to satisfy fans of even the hardest science fiction.
Imagine: modern-day China has successfully invaded the U.S. and conquered the western and most populous half of Washington State—without firing a shot. Using the US’s own hijacked computer code, the Chinese government has disabled America’s nuclear strike capability and ordered US bases in the region vacated. If the US government or its citizens fight back, widespread death and destruction await.
Enter retired US Army Lt. Zeb Dalton, the creator of the stolen computer code. Deadly enough in combat, his true value lies in his unsurpassed data processing and pattern-recognition capabilities. On the scene when the Chinese remotely disable and crash a US passenger jet out of the sky at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Dalton steps up to aid the US’s secret mission to regain control of the captured territory. Teamed up with two non-commissioned officers, each with their own unique sets of deadly skills, Dalton and his partners evade and elude Chinese detection in search of a “back door” to disable the deadly code.
On the other side of the Pacific, Junjie Zang, the entrepreneur who hijacked and adapted the code for his government’s nefarious attack has second thoughts, and soon he, too, is on the run from the imperialist invader’s leadership. Resourceful and not without allies, Junjie’s journey to find a safe place to hide while helping to prevent World War III parallels his American counterparts’. As the authorities close in, the body count mounts, and the stakes grow ever higher.
Overall, this military thriller plot is tight and carefully woven. The text is replete with a convincing level of technological and military jargon to let the reader know: Stewart knows his stuff. Readers of military-political thrillers will enjoy Stewart’s tight, active prose, while those who prefer a more literary flair might lose interest with his understated, plot-driven style.
The main characters stand out as fully developed (if occasionally straining credulity with their near-superhuman abilities), but the secondary characters, especially politicians and bureaucrats on both sides of the Pacific, can come across as relatively flat, sometimes not even warranting a moniker other than their job title. While the thrills are dominated by macho male characters, Dalton’s second partner de guerre Jessica Sanchez delivers an occasional refreshing blast of strong femininity to the tale.
When Totems Fall is a solid, fast-paced read and a good example of its genre, with a strong climactic build and a satisfying conclusion, featuring plenty of well-designed characters to root for (and against). Sense and Sensibility it ain’t, but if you like a good war thriller, this novel won’t disappoint.
Paperback: 360 pages
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