International intrigue and political thrillers have always been a popular genre, but in these tumultuous times, the fodder for such writers seems to have increased immeasurably. In The Gambit, Brad Carlson tears the tension from the headlines, postulating a world where Iran becomes a nuclear nation, and in the face of American hesitance, Israel must make a dangerous decision to protect itself.
Every chapter is packed with the gravitas of the present world, making this novel both timely and prescient. For those trying to escape these difficult times, this book may not be the most appealing read, but it’s a fascinating tale, to say the least. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is a dominant and dynamic leading man, while Dani provides an excellent counterpoint – smart, sassy and not afraid to take control when she needs to. What begins as an international thriller – one that will seemingly focus on countries “over there” – the fight comes to American shores as Iran’s true ambitions become clear.
This is dystopian chaos at its finest, but also a frightening vision of what a massive attack on America’s infrastructure could look like. The delicate nature of foreign policy and the mysterious actions of the global intelligence community are put in the spotlight. The players are recognizable just enough so that readers will feel like this story is not only possible, but even inevitable. Contemporary readers will be unable to separate fiction from fact, not only because of the real life “characters” involved in the book, such as Netanyahu, Assad and others, but also because of the logical progression of the conflict. With a premise like this, there is no need to be overly dramatic; the seriousness of the threat is intense and believable all by itself.
The author’s background in diplomatic history and international relations shines in the prose, as the amount of details suggests comfort and mastery of the topic, without boring readers with too much procedural info. Many international thrillers fail to give the “juicy” parts without weighing the book down with too much backstory. The military scenes and action sequences are breathlessly conveyed, aided by the genuine interest that readers will develop for the characters. There is no shortage of heart-stopping moments, partially due to the momentum building for Carlson.
The dialogue is crisp and realistic, avoiding another common flaw in this genre, and Carlson shows a keen perception of real communication, particularly in times of trauma or crisis. There are few moments where a reader gets a respite, but the brief banter between Dani and Stonewall can be amusing, and some of the more detailed military sections provide an occasional breather.
As a whole, this book is intense from the start, and with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, there aren’t many chances to relax. Plenty of room is also left after the epic climax of this book, and loose ends abound for the inevitable sequel to clear up. The Gambit should be a hit, making this an auspicious debut for the author.
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