This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I picked up the omnibus edition of the first three books in the series, largely because it’s one of the only major “next world war” series out there. Given the scope of Maelstrom Rising, that was of some interest.
In many ways, it has a wider (and narrower–I’ll get to that) scope than expected. There’s also some action, but it’s quite limited. This is really more of a suspense, conspiracy thriller than a classic military techno-thriller.
It starts right off the bat with David Manning, an employee of an IT firm that works closely with the Defense Department and CIA, on his way home to his wife and kids. Everything is normal, nothing especially is off-kilter except for his 2-year-old hanging up on him while he’s driving home.
Until he gets kidnapped off his front porch.
His kidnappers are Americans, and assure him that he’s in friendly hands; they just needed to get him out of sight quickly, because they need his help, specifically his expertise concerning a new cyber-warfare program that his firm has helped to develop. He is quickly spirited away to a Red Cell, where it’s revealed that the Chinese have infiltrated the US government and defense apparatus, and are planning a devastating attack to remove the United States as a global superpower.
Lacking intel, the Red Cell’s mission is to wargame out the attack, trying to stay ahead of the Chinese and determine how to stop the gaps and head off the attack.
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, as David tries–not always successfully–to figure out who to trust.
It’s not big on action; this is definitely setting up the story to come. There’s some small-scale, very personal violence, but only a little. The suspense is far more immediate than the action, and Watts does a good job of making the reader start to doubt every character but Manning. The sense of paranoia becomes palpable as the story goes on.
Overall, while I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of action Watts brings out of this scenario, this was very much a setup book. Tense, but without the follow-on books, it would be somewhat slow, and ends on something of a cliffhanger. Fortunately, having the omnibus, I can launch right into the next book, The War Stage.