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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
I have an addiction and Timothy S. Johnston, author of The Shadow of War, along with four previous novels depicting future civilizations living under the seas, is to blame. Ever since Johnston tantalized me with his first book in the Rise of Oceania series, I have been hooked on a TV show that virtually drains the oceans looking for shipwrecks. As I watch, I picture Truman McClusky, his twin sister Meg, and members of their talented team flitting from one underwater colony to another because global warming has either baked dry or drowned the cities of our current earth. Oh, how I would love to see those undersea cities Johnston describes when I watch that drain the oceans show!
With each book, Johnston takes readers to different underwater colonies populated by former residents of France, Germany, Australia…just to name a few. In all five novels, McClusky, the mayor of Trieste, has been on a mission: to unite the 29 undersea cities with a combined population of over 10 million people in 2131 into one independent nation known as Oceania. In The Shadow of War, Mac travels to Great Britain’s undersea colony, whose mayor, Sahar Noor, is a beautiful, intelligent, and peace-loving Muslim woman. She is keen to have her colony join Oceania, but can the dream of an independent underwater nation ever be realized without war and bloodshed, without bigger, better, faster, and deadlier weapons from those opposing the idea of Oceania?
In this novel, there is yet another killer weapon: it’s a neutral beam that travels at the speed of light, but there’s a problem: said weapon has been manufactured in four different parts and each part is secured in a different, highly inaccessible location. Once again, Mac and his team need this ultimate weapon but they have their work cut out for them. Sahar wants to help them but insists no lives be lost. They need her support and that of Commodore Clarke whom Meg doesn’t trust. Furthermore, it seems someone close to them is out to kill McCluskey. But who and why? As tensions and suspicions run high between the characters, and timelines narrow, readers find themselves once again holding their breaths. Is Mac willing to kill, to lose more lives? How will Sahar Noor feel if he is? Brace yourself for those final pages that will answer all the questions with no ready or easy answers.
To read Johnston’s five novels is to enjoy the experience of the author’s ever-evolving insights into his characters and themes, much like the evolution of Oceania itself. The approach to Johnston’s story-writing has changed: where he mesmerized us with his wonderful descriptions of undersea travel and sights in the first book, The War Beneath, his focus in the last two novels has been much more on the characters, including the darkness in each of us. The inclusion of Sahar Noor as a popular Muslim mayor was a nice touch; a subtle comment on gender and racial equality. The vision of Sahar and Mac praying and meditating together on the ocean floor near Trieste might seem unrealistic, but for the issues confronting the principal characters and readers of The Shadow of War, it was a welcome relief, comforting and beautiful. Johnston surprises us constantly with his complex characters and plot twists, but he tells us in his book end-notes that it’s now time for “the big finish”. Will that big finish, titled A Blanket of Steel, finally see the birth of Oceania as one nation? Will all six books in the series finally earn Timothy S. Johnston that movie contract he so deserves? I hope so. I need to see Oceania on the big screen!