Blades of Winter by G.T. Almasi is the first in the Shadowstorm series, an action-packed thriller revolving around genetically enhanced spies in a reimagined version of the Cold War (available August 28, 2012).
Blades Of Winter is G.T. Almasi’s debut novel, and promises to be the first in a series of exciting, action-packed thrillers revolving around hot-headed superspy Alix Nico. Set in an alternate history in which Germany conquered Western Europe with ease during World War II, this novel extrapolates to the 1980s where, instead of engaging in a Cold War, the world’s four superpowers (the United States, Germany, Russia, and China) use surgically enhanced and modified secret agents to advance their interests in what’s been termed a Shadowstorm. Alix is one of these agents, following in the footsteps of a father who was reportedly killed in action eight years before the novel picks up her narrative.
Alix is a prodigy, the result of natural genetic talent and a determination to carry on the legacy of the father she worshipped. At the age of nineteen, she’s raring to prove herself, bilking less intelligent co-workers into sending her out on missions far above her Level, as her Extreme Operations agent rating is called. She’s cocky, witty, and consistently overestimates her understanding of the rules.
I honestly thought the whole clearance thing was a load of bureautrash. While I pretend to listen to Raj, I mentally access my copy of the Administration Department’s equipment manual. It lives in my head along with all the other files the Med-Techs stuffed in there when I had my Nerve Jet installed.
The virtual document appears in my Eyes-Up display and overlays my view of the physical world around me. I focus my gaze on the table of contents entry for maintenance, and the document scrolls to that chapter. Reading, reading . . . there’s all kinds of stuff in here about how to maintain Extreme Operations property, including oneself. I run a search for the word “clearance” and get 179 matches from this chapter alone. Damn.
But Alix isn’t just bluster and brawn. Her relationships with her long-suffering mother and her supportive boyfriend-cum-field-partner are sweet and believable, and serve as counterpoint to the deadly rollercoaster of life in the field. After the seemingly routine surveillance of a person of interest in Manhattan goes awry, Alix and her partner, Patrick, travel to parts of Europe and the Middle East controlled by Greater Germany in the course of investigating a plot to cripple the superpowers and, most likely, the entire world. Along the way, Alix discovers that her father’s last mission may have been faked, and that there is a mole in the American government who may have sacrificed her father for reasons she still has to determine.
G.T. Almasi has written a complex thriller that riffs off of actual history to provide an intriguing “What If?” that melds sci-fi with politics and espionage. He seamlessly inserts news articles and dossier briefs in the otherwise first person narrative to increase the reader’s sense of immersion. I really appreciated the attention to fashion detail, too: tiny touches like that make the world he’s built seem that much more inhabited.
Above all, though, he can write an action-packed scene that knocks the socks off any blockbuster movie. This is one example, from early in the book:
But back to that bullet flying my way. Five seconds ago, Hector stood up and put on his jacket to leave. Four seconds ago, I turned my head to look for my waitress. Three seconds ago, Hector’s date plucked a small silver pistol out of her handbag. She’s about my age and height but with dark hair and dark clothes, and she’s suddenly wearing a pair of giant Jackie Onassis sunglasses. Two seconds ago, she pointed her puny gun at my face. One second ago, as this miniature Jackie-O chick pulled the trigger, I told my neuroinjector to get me ready to do some serious head stomping. As of this instant, I’m fully jacked on Madrenaline and time has slowed to a crawl.
The bullet has just emerged from Jackie-O’s little fashion accessory, so I’ve got time to pull out my larger and much more impressive black pistol […] I hold my head still while my retinal cameras photograph this little chickie for posterity, then I dodge to the side. The bullet sizzles across the skin of my left cheekbone as I pump two Explosive shots into the ceiling above Jackie-O. This distracts her with falling debris and gets all the others to duck under their tables. Now she’s totally exposed, so I mash down the trigger and unload my Incendiaries on her.
My flaming bullet fog hits her so hard that she doesn’t even have a chance to be torn to bits. She simply goes up in a white cloud of smoke that fills the whole dining room. It’s like the girl was never there. Her vanishing act (and perhaps all the noise, fumes, and fire) has scared the shit out of everybody, and they all start screaming their heads off. The smoke is so thick, I can’t even see my table in front of me. I switch on my infrared vision just in time to spot Hector as he follows a group of terrified patrons out the front door. I charge after him and switch my infrared off as I storm into the bright sunshine outside.
I also appreciated how the author dealt with the aftermath of traumatic fieldwork, even as the novel races relentlessly to its conclusion. It’s clear that G.T. Almasi has much more in store for Alix in the Shadowstorm. I, personally, haven’t been this excited about reading the rest of an as-yet-unpublished series in a while.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
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