The Barnes & Noble Review
Stephen Coonts's new military thriller, Fortunes of War, plays a riff of the Armageddon rag. Japanese politics and the possibility that Japan might have a secret army preparing for future combat and expansion fuel the plot. Coonts very carefully calls no side evil and makes sure that the Japanese people are not reduced to caricatures. Even so, in Fortunes of War, Japan's will, as a nation, is one of undiluted vengeance for the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S.
In Japan, four telephone repairmen enter the Emperor's quarters while the Emperor and his family sit in the garden with his top adviser. Atsuko Abe, Japan's prime minister, presents the Emperor with a plan to restore Japan to a world-class power. These plans include forcing Russia to hand an oil-rich Siberia over to the Japanese. Knowing that the Russians would not do this voluntarily, Abe has delineated a plan of attack against the Russians. This includes forcibly taking the oil fields by strategic military action. The Emperor is not pleased with this. His memory of World War II, and the destruction that it brought upon Japan, is fresh enough to warn him from such a course of obliteration. But the prime minister has made up his mind, feeling that the future belongs to Japan, with or without its Emperor.
Atsuko Abe leaves the palace. As the Emperor and his wife return to their chambers, they are confronted by the four telephone repairmen, who are, in fact, overzealous assassins. Following the ancient code of the samurai warrior, the four men chop off the Emperor's headandthen commit suicide, leaving no survivors and only one witness: the Empress of Japan, whose young son will be the new emperor.
Meanwhile, Jiru Kimura meets with U.S. military attaché Colonel Bob Cassidy. Kimura is a young jet pilot who works in the Japanese self-defense air corps. He was trained in the U.S., and he and Cassidy go back to the days in Colorado Springs when Cassidy was his instructor. Kimura has learned that the Japanese are beginning to mobilize their fighter jets, called Zeroes, and equip them with a superstealth capability so that they will be completely undetectable by radar. He passes the information on to Cassidy with the hopes that this knowledge will help avert World War III.
But the U.S. is slow to respond to this and other warnings. The red tape of Washington tangles anything it touches. Soon the Japanese invade Siberia and quickly go on the offensive in order to secure the area for themselves. Russia, under new leadership, has just begun to pick itself up from the brink of economic disaster, and so cannot afford to lose the oil fields on its frontier. Aleksander Kalugin, the Russian president, has just secured his country's borders, and the Japanese threat might just topple his shaky government. As the threat of nuclear war increases, Kimura, Cassidy, and others are drawn into the vortex of action in the sky and on the earth. This makes for some tense air battles, particularly between Jiro Kimura and his mentor, Bob Cassidy.
Coonts's novel is a fast-paced, world-class read but suffers a bit from a lack of focus on any one character. Still, Coonts's characters are well-drawn and make for compelling reading. The arena of war is definitely the setting of the novel, even while it jumps from Japan to Washington to Moscow to Siberia. For fans of Coonts, as well as those interested in Japan and its politics, FORTUNES OF WAR is compulsive reading.
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including Dark of the Eye and The Children's Hour. His most recent short story, "O, Rare and Most Exquisite," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 10.
YA-A modern military thriller. U.S. Colonel Cassidy and Jiro Kimura, a Japanese fighter pilot, friends since they met at the Air Force Academy, find themselves on opposing sides of a highly charged political situation. Japanese radicals have taken over their country and hope to seize Siberian oil fields to help the failing Japanese economy. Sent to help the Russians, Cassidy and his team of American pilots try to avert a nuclear holocaust. Meanwhile, a Russian submarine inflicts damage on the Japanese coast. The stealthy events leading to the beheading of the Japanese emperor in the opening chapter grab readers' attention. Intense action and the use of short sentences and fragments heighten the dramatic urgency and speed the plot along. There are numerous military details; however, it is possible to skim through them and still get to know the characters and follow the story. This fast read is a good introduction to adult military novels for teens, who will also learn something of Japanese and Russian history from the cultural details woven into the story.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
The veteran flyboy tale-spinner (The Intruders, 1994, etc.) rewrites the near-future-war formulaþwith splendid results. With the high-tech thriller genre suffering from a shortage of drawing-board hardware and credible villains, it's wonderful to find Coonts breaking free from Clancy-esque overplotting to craft an oddly optimistic war drama that's less about the mechanics of warfare than the conflicted loyalties of the soldiers who'll fight it. The admittedly contrived scenario involves a plan by fanatical right-wing Japanese Prime Minister (and Yukio Mishima fan) Atsuko Abe to annex oil-rich portions of Siberia by using a squadron of radar-invisible Zero fighter jets and an illicit nuclear arsenal. American President David Hood, eager to meddle but not get officially involved, sends a bunch of F-22 fighters with a crew of crackerjack flyboys to "assist" Russian President Aleksandr Kalugin, a maniac with Stalin-esque ambitions and a few nuclear warheads left over from the bad old days. Once the fighting starts, Coonts wisely shifts his story away from the heavily caricatured government leaders to an assortment of middle- to upper-level flyboys, spies, and submarine crewmen whose patriotism and stoic devotion to duty are complicated by feelings of sympathy and camaraderie with "the enemy." They are also, to a man (and woman, a tough-as-nails fighter pilot and one of Coonts's more memorable creations), horrified at the devastation they're about to unleash. Superb battle scenes, in the air or under Tokyo Harbor, lead to a climactic aerial dogfight between Jack Cassidy, an emotionally vulnerable F-22 squadron commander, and his Japanese opposite numberþCaptain Jiro Kimura.Having trained together in the US, Kimura and Cassidy are close friends who can, if they choose, end the conflict before it leads to world destruction. A stirring examination of the courage, compassion, and profound nobility of military professionals under fire. Coonts's best yet. ($300,000 ad/promo; author tour)