A good chunk of the middle of the book is devoted to the Red Cell’s planning, suiting the book’s title, The War Planners. These people, from various intelligence and defense agencies, as well as private contractors, are getting into the weeds on not only military defenses, but psychological warfare, economic warfare, information operations, and infrastructure attacks and weaknesses. Watts clearly put some research in, and understands at least some of not only the Chinese model of “Unrestricted Warfare,” but also something about how Chinese intelligence agencies work.Getting into the rest of the book might be getting too far into spoilery territory. Suffice it to say that not all is necessarily as it seems, and it becomes a very Ludlum-esque thriller…
So, it took me a while to get through this one (sorry, J.T.!). J.T. Patten did warn me that he considered the second novel, Primed Charge, to be much better written. While I can see why, this book is no slouch on its own. Sean Havens is a spook’s spook. He doesn’t have a formal cover; he doesn’t even directly work for any agency. He’s a contractor, who goes to various countries as a corporate drone of some kind, blends in, learns the human terrain, and then manipulates it to a desired outcome. Somewhere nearby, people die, and he goes home to his family, completely unconnected. Except that, despite his paranoia (which is impressive, by the way), there are still people who know who he is. And they know where his family is. That leads to a personal tragedy that draws Havens into something far darker than anything he’s been involved in yet (and he’s been hip-deep in some pretty dark stuff, as you discover as the book goes on).
Since Kill Yuan is set in an AO I haven’t ventured into before, I thought it might be useful to set out a bit of an orientation. The setting is the South China Sea, recently the scene of extensive maritime territorial disputes between China, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Other countries have become peripherally involved (including the US), to include Indonesia and Malaysia. To get a bit of a picture of the overall geography of the disputes, here’s a map: As part of its program of expanded influence, China has not only been expanding its naval presence in the Spratlys and the Paracels, but it has actually been building artificial islands to further cement its claims. A good brief of the overall situation by the BBC is here.
Imagine Die Hard, if John McClane had been a retired Special Operations soldier instead of an off-duty cop. That’s pretty much the scenario that Steven Hildreth presents in The Sovereigns, albeit with a bit more going on behind the scenes. It is an alternate 2005. An anarchist/sovereign citizen terrorist group calling itself The Liberty Brigade, made up of a few true believers and a few more violent sociopaths who find the idea of revolution fits right in with their particular idea of fun, has seized the Saguaro Towers, a Carlton Hotel, in Tucson. They have struck fast and hard. Security is dead, the hotel’s guests are held hostage, and they have the situation under control. Their demands hit all the high points of the isolationist and conspiracy theorist narrative. They are also calculated so that the government can never agree to them.