5 out of 5
Greg Rucka’s first Queen and Country novel, A Gentleman’s Game, was a post-9/11 book. Greg tackled the topic in a roundabout fashion in the comic, but a book was an opportunity to dig deeper, and Greg’s approach to that was to lay bare the extreme beliefs and mindsets that allow for terrorism, while also humanizing those involved: a potential terrorist is a main character in the novel, and we spend as much time with him as we do with lead spy Tara Chace, on mission to stop some dastardly deeds from going down. It was an interesting approach but it rather sabotaged the pacing; Greg was a sly enough writer to create tension without constant action sequences, but the book seemed so focused on trying to make a point that some of the basics of structure and writing got lost along the way.
Private Wars doesn’t abandon this approach, necessarily, but I think there was a lesson learned: swapping in Russians for “the bad guys,” Greg allows us into their side of the situation by pitting the various players against one another, and builds on the effects of Gentleman’s Game upon Tara to double and triple down on her investment in this new op, which starts as a political coup and then morphs – on the fly – into something even more politically sticky.
All of the pieces just move around so beautifully in this volume, while still giving us a full cast and the step-by-step political games and spycraft that ground the Queen & Country series; there’s less of a sense of “you should know about this!” preaching and more inclusive writing, that educates us on how the Russia and US and UK of the novel operate without forcing us to reach for a map or flip back to previous chapters for a reference to another character. Things go gloriously wrong for Tara, almost every step of the way, but the writing is so sharp that you’re not expecting it, even though there’s clearly still half a book or more to go, and even up through the very last chapters, there’s a stunning juggling of cutthroat, what-can-happen-next tension that doesn’t feel manipulative – or moreso than it needs to be, at least.
An excellent followup; an amazing standalone; and a perfect complement to the comic series, sufficient as a conclusion, even though we got another Q & C book a few years later…