James Swallow’s Shadow is a gripping thriller in the style of classic Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum. The plot begins with the escape of a white supremacist terrorist leader, and the kidnapping of a North Korean defector with brilliant skills in biomanipulation.
The leads are Marc and Lucy, each having made their own mistakes, each trying to live their lives and do good while understanding the strange organization called Rubicon they now work for. They have an enemy in the Combine, although their awareness of this is nebulous at best. Instead Rubicon spends most of its time fighting right-wing terrorism of one sort or another.
An early terrorist act in the book takes place against a group of refugees on the ocean. In light of the right-wing movements around the world attacking such groups both rhetorically and literally, it is good to see this included. At the same time, it will be hard for many to read, as will the general racist abuse and disgusting views of the antagonists whenever they are put forth.
That said, in light of the history of volumes in the anti-terrorist thriller genre often supporting right-wing ideas whether or not they are defensible, volumes like this are outright necessary to counteract them amongst readers of the genre.
There are no shortage of fatalities with in this book, up to and including children. While such is not a surprise in real situations involving terrorism, it might surprise the occasional reader that the book explicitly features such a death.
Regardless of the time this story is set, it is very clearly most similar to near future science fiction. There are types of 3D printing discussed in the book which are only theoretical, and the use of them even more so. While the types of biological attacks described in the book are a legitimate risk, and in light of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic may feel downright uncomfortable to readers, the described methodology is still more near future than current day.
While part of a long-running series, this volume works fairly well as an entry point, each of the lead characters having enough introduction to be understandable in motivation and interesting as a personality. The largest weakness reading this volume as a standalone will come from the ending, which goes out of its way to suggest an upcoming plot for one or more books involving the organization Marc and Lucy work with.
James Swallow’s Shadow is an enjoyable read. Something on an update of a very old formula, and a part of a series that still manages to stand on its own. If one enjoys this type of thriller it is easy to recommend, and skipping the previous volumes shouldn’t be much of a concern.