Book Title: Rules of Engagement: A Novel
Author: David Bruns & J.R. Olson
Publication Date: June 24, 2019
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Captain Brendan McHugh is overseeing the rapid expansion of CIA’s Trident Program into a formidable network of signals intelligence monitoring around the world using civilian vessels to hide their capabilities in plain sight. One of his best friends, Don Riley, is working for the United States Cyber Command. He’s trying to recruit the best and the brightest midshipmen right out of the Naval Academy for his program. Finding three extremely talented men and women, he incorporates them into his team for training.
Rafiq Roshed, one of the worlds most wanted terrorists, has evaded escape from the authorities over the course of the two previous novels. He’s been lying low for years while being sheltered by North Korea. After hunting Roshed for years, Liz Soroush from the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Brendan’s wife, finally unearths a clue to Roshed’s whereabouts, causing the U.S. government to go on the offensive.
Meanwhile, Roshed now has an opportunity to strike back and he becomes involved in a nefarious scheme to pit two world nations against one another for profiteering purposes. But, Rafiq has other plans to use his resources and his cyberwarfare team to wreak havoc not just on two nations but on the world! With Roshed bringing the planet to the brink of World War III, Brendan, Don and his team of midshipman must marshal all of the government’s resources to bear on the problem before the world burns in flames.
As the line of dominoes begins to fall, each one collapsing faster than the last, Roshed’s machinations threaten to blossom into full-blown warfare! China, Japan, and the United States are drawn into a situation which teeters out of control and into a conflict in which no one will win and the entire world will lose! There is only one way for this to end and it’s all up to a dedicated team of specialists to stop the apocalypse. It also has a spine-tingling finale that makes your adrenaline pump non-stop as you wonder who will live and who will die. And there is plenty of death, so you never know what’s going to happen next and who might not survive to the next chapter.
The novel efficiently follows the plot one scene at a time and the reader follows the action, zooming from one destination to another. Each scene is built on the one before it, the ramifications of each one slowly building intrigue and increasing the tension bit by bit. The scenes don’t linger in one place for very long as Roshed’s plan unfolds in front of the readers with each terrifying moment.
This story moves at a very fast pace, utilizing short chapters with many different characters and features numerous locales. From the Navy’s Seventh Fleet of aircraft carriers and other craft patrolling off the coast of China to Chinese J-11 fighters in the sky to submarines maneuvering deep under the ocean, the action is swift, tactical and brutal. Moving from the halls of power in North Korea to the hidden power brokers of the Russian Bratva, we see the actions of world leaders and the impact of their actions on ordinary citizens.
We also explore the deepest recesses of the U.S. government and its armed forces struggling to get ahead of circumstances that are difficult to comprehend. Making the right decision when you must pick the best of the worst options available to you, it puts lives at risk no matter what choice is made. The story focuses on each crucial development, wherever it may lead, riveting me with its details the whole time.
Utilizing all of these elements and more, the storyline of this novel is intelligent, intricate and meticulously well thought out, filled with plenty of clever twists, strategic moves, and high stakes. I also appreciated the realism of this book. As both authors are retired Navy officers, they bring a wealth of experience and accurate military details to this tale that heighten its authenticity and make it that much more electrifying.
The chapters and scenes are noted with a location change, so the reader knows where the story is moving next, following one character or another. Since the action moves fast, this is a necessary and welcomed feature. The cast of characters is five pages long and you might think this feels overpowering. However, each scene seamlessly moved from one to the next and I never got lost or forgot what was happening and who it was happening to.
Each chapter is so clearly delineated from the others by its scenery and its distinctiveness, it was very easy for me to keep up. Each character is also imbued with personality, motivations and different responsibilities. Each one is also quite memorable. It feels refreshing to jump from one to the other without it ever feeling stale and it always stoked the fires of excitement.
Some characters get more development than others. Don’s team of midshipmen particularly comes to mind here. Michael Goodwin, Janet Everett, and Andrea Ramirez are the three plebes who are thrown into the deep end of this international crisis. Michael is a real standout among the three, as his backstory as a teen in Los Angeles is very notable, as are his unusual computer skills.
Their abilities provide a complementarity with one another that make them mesh as a team, even when faced with overwhelming odds and the fate of the world hanging on their every move. Their meshing on a personal and professional level earn them the nickname of “The Triad” and their skills prove to be invaluable to solving this catastrophe.
This is just one excellent example of how teamwork plays a critical role in how the U.S. government tries to problem solve each of these growing crises. It’s rarely never just one man who saves the day like you might see in the movies. It’s how soldiers, government officials and everyone else in-between is collectively working together towards the common goal of trying to capture a heinous terrorist and saving the day. It’s this exemplary service, determination, and bravery of the United States Armed Forces in the face of overwhelming odds that is one of the most admirable traits of this novel.
For those of you who have never read these authors before, welcome! There’s plenty of reading material by these two authors that take place prior to this novel. “Rules of Engagement” is the third novel in “The WMD Files” series. The first novel in the series is “Weapons of Mass Deception” and the second is “Jihadi Apprentice.” There are also two short stories that fit into the timeline of the first two novels called “Death of a Pawn” and “Battle Djinni”.
Previous events from these stories are alluded to and deftly integrated into this current narrative. While it is not necessary to do so, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out these two prior novels and the two short stories. They enhance this story here as well as flesh out these characters and their history that much more, deepening my emotional investment in these tales as a result. They also happen to be thrilling roller-coaster rides from beginning to end, just like this novel.
It’s been over six years since the events of “Jihadi Apprentice” and the main characters in each novel have shifted with each one. As such, Don has moved into the spotlight with his team of talented midshipman and their importance in the novel grows to be one of the focal points of this story. I would’ve liked to see Brendan and Elizabeth in action more in this novel since they were the main characters in the previous two novels. However, they are relegated to more supporting roles here. Consequently, there is also a sense that the baton is being passed from one generation to the next.
I’ve read the previous two novels in this series by these two authors, as well as other stories that were written by David Bruns and his other collaborators. All of the traits I enjoy from those stories are all present here: individually distinguished characters, a mesmerizing concept, a brisk pace, an enveloping story, well-written prose, and a highly entertaining storytelling experience. In comparing this novel to the others in this series, I think this novel is a clear evolution of their style and they really stepped up to the plate when they wrote this book. It’s their best collaboration yet.
I’ve read many military thrillers like this over the years and this one ranks up there with my favorites, especially books like “Red Phoenix” by Larry Bond and “Team Yankee” by Harold Coyle. In case you didn’t know, Bond also co-wrote “Red Storm Rising” with Tom Clancy. Both Bond, Coyle and other authors like W.E.B. Griffin and Tom Clancy have written many military novels I’ve enjoyed and I hold this novel in the same high esteem as those and more.
In this day and age where everything is wirelessly connected through the internet and through satellites, this is a taut and terrifying cautionary tale that is all too real. Cyberwarfare is the next battleground that continues to play out on the world stage, being fought every day without much of the general population being aware of it. This novel explores that idea in vivid detail, educating as it goes from one scenario to the next without slowing down the narrative in the slightest. Military thrillers like this can sometimes go into too much detail that bogs down the story but this novel strikes the perfect balance between information, plot development, personal characterization, and action.
Overall, I found this to be a frighteningly plausible novel about cyberwarfare and an unputdownable geo-political technothriller of the highest order. I greatly look forward to the next novel in this series!
Please note I received an advance copy of this ebook through NetGalley.
If you found this review to be helpful to you, please click here to go to the review on Amazon. Then navigate to the bottom of this review and click on the “helpful” button.
Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by David Bruns include “Masada’s Gate: A Space Opera Noir Technothriller“, “World Domination: A Supervillain Anthology“, “Beyond the Stars – Unimagined Realms: a space opera anthology” and “Bridge Across the Stars – A Sci-Fi Bridge Original Anthology.”