Book Review: The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun

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The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun by Matthew Bracken
Today I will be reviewing this book by Matthew Bracken. I will try to keep big spoilers to a minimum as it relates to this book but inevitably a review gives away some stuff. I will also compare and contrast with Matt Brackens other books so there may be some spoilers there. Also for the sake of full disclosure I paid full price for this book and do not have any relationship with Matthew Bracken. To the best of my recollection I have never interacted with the guy. That said I do like his stuff and have all his books. Getting started.
Brief Overview: “Dan Kilmer is a former Marine sniper in his late thirties. Fifteen years earlier, he returned home from military service in the Middle East and gave college a try, but his combat experiences prevented him from fitting into campus life. In a South Florida boatyard, his uncle was attempting to refurbish an old cargo schooner, and Dan left college to help him finish the flagging project. After two years of work but before the sixty-foot boat was relaunched, his uncle fell from a scaffold and died. While still in his mid-twenties, Dan inherited the schooner Rebel Yell, but not the means to maintain it or to afford the cruising lifestyle. Soon after, he left the United States to embark on a series of voyages, mostly in pursuit of beautiful women and good times. The action in this new novel takes place a few years after his adventures in Castigo Cay, the first Dan Kilmer novel. In The Red Cliffs of Zerhoun, Dan’s trading schooner is located in southwest Ireland, where he is attempting to sell 96 drums of diesel fuel salvaged from an abandoned NATO base in Greenland. The global financial system has collapsed, and both paper and digital currency have no value, but diesel fuel and gold still do. While waiting to sell his remaining thirty barrels, Dan is approached by a retired SAS colonel and asked to transport a dozen former special operations commandos 1,400 miles south to the Canary Islands, where they will be transported by a landing craft to Morocco in order to conduct a rescue operation. Two months earlier, nearly seventy Irish and English girls had been kidnapped by pirates from their elite Irish boarding academy and taken to Port Zerhoun, which is under the control of a cartel of modern corsairs. The young schoolgirls will be sold at auction as sex slaves, unless a ragtag team of former commandos can liberate them in time.”
The Good:
-This books collapse scenario is plausible. Particularly the scenario Matt lays out of a violent, economically depressed world is vivid and realistic. Things in many areas have fallen apart but more in a “there is very little fuel and the electricity doesn’t work much” than a cataclysmic typical survivalist scenario where civilization as we know it falls apart and the world descends into murdering rapist cannibal gangs. Manufacture of most complicated modern goods is seriously limited and the supply of them as well as fossil fuels are highly prized/ rare/ expensive. This is probably the most realistic portrayal I have seen.
-The geo politics in the book are current and valid. They didn’t dust off the same scrolling paragraph at the beginning of red dawn kind of start scenario. Too many books in this realm start with “the stock market crashed or the lights went out” then go into their plot. This book takes a real quality look both at current situations (portrayed as past since the book is in the near future) and realistic future ones based on the current trajectory.
-Along these lines technology available to our happy go lucky group of adventurers and mercenaries reflected the overall scenario of the book and is downright plausible. A decade into a collapse scenario most of the wiz bang electronics people have now will have stopped working.
This was a sharp contrast with the first Dan Kilmer book where he had all kinds of cool toys: night vision, lasers, a small UAV, etc. In this book they were navigating by sextant and rocking iron sights on their rifles. This brings up an excellent point. Gear fails and the most vulnerable/ fragile gear is by far electronics. Having a plan/ gear set up that uses modern gear but can easily fall back to older durable gear is prudent. So relying solely on a red dot sight is a bad plan.
-The book portrays people and social situations in realistic ways. Characters had faults and a person who is great in one way may be a jerk in another. How they are motivated in different ways (economics, morality, etc) or combinations of ways is so good. How sex is portrayed is realistic for normal society and straddles a fine line between ignoring the matter entirely like some books written by very socially conservative Christian types or randomly being fairly dirty like Unintended Consequences. Ditto various realistic but very unpleasant events like rape and slavery.
-Things went wrong. Missions fail. Small missions relying on single points of failure can come apart if a vehicle doesn’t work or a rope breaks or whatever. In a collapse scenario where gear is decades old and questionably maintained things will go wrong even more often.
-Piracy. While the resurgence of Islamic raiding of Europe to steal slaves is a “what if” the relationship between lack of global stability and piracy is quite solid. We are seeing it now in Somalia. Piracy based out of the the Med and NW Africa if Europes stability starts to crack is absolutely realistic.
-Dan finally got his shit together and bought a Glock 19.
The Bad:
-Depending on their stance on Islam, the Arab world and North Africans someone could be really offended by this book. Someone could also say that Matthew Bracken is speaking the politically incorrect truth. I will let you judge that one for yourself.
-There was one moment where a main character made a total mental 180 on a huge decision in a way that was pretty ‘the writer had a deadline and couldn’t figure out a good way to do it facing a tight deadline’ ish. Just didn’t seem plausible at all.
-Like many books there were times the good guys got really, really lucky.
The Ugly:
-Matt Bracken takes a long time between books. I wish he could get one out every year or so.
General Thoughts:
-The items characters in this books really valued (aside from the obvious boats, gold, etc) were durable, common and readily fixable. Think Glock 9mm pistols, Toyota trucks, strait razors, etc. Looking at Glocks and Toyotas they tend to just work for a really long time. They also are so widely available odds are high you can find a broken one to snag parts out of. You can’t say that about a CZ PO7 Duty or a Land rover.
-There was a shift from Matts other books such as Castigo Cay (and doubly his first 2 Enemies books) where the economy is seriously damaged and there are localized problems but mostly we have the same landscape as today. Less electronic stuff and the ability to replace things easily decreases.
Overall Impression: An excellent book. Buy and read it.