Clancy has been writing the life history of Jack Ryan for many years. With each new book in the series, new aspects of Ryan are displayed, from his own internal doubts about the moral correctness of some of his actions to a dazzling display of competence in each endeavor that he attempts. Here we find Ryan involved, as a first order plot, in an economic war with Japan, waged with all the tools of modern electronic markets, where Ryan's prior experience as a Wall Street analyst is useful, believable, and comprehensible to the reader. This alone is no small feat for Clancy, as Wall Street jargon is a language all its own, and the internal workings of the markets are mainly a dark mystery to most. Of course, this being a Clancy novel, there is far more than just one main plot, and when things deteriorate to a shooting war, he does his usual fine job of delineating actual tactics, weapons, squad level and executive decisions to the point of making the reader feel that he is there on the front line. The characterization of Yamata, one of the main driving forces on the opposing side, is very well done, and lends a sense of inevitability to the surprising and traumatic conclusion to this book. After reading this, Executive Orders is a must read, if just to find out "Now what?" (and you won't be disappointed, as Executive Orders is as good or maybe slightly better than this one).
There are a few places where I felt Clancy could have been more concise; at times the level of detail he throws at the reader is overwhelming, and not truly necessary to developing his plot, characters, or theme. This is a typical Clancy failing (which seems to have become much worse in his latest couple of novels) -- here it is quite bearable, and it is fairly easy to recognize those sections where it is safe to do some skim reading.
Some readers of this have felt that the depicted scenario is too far out, that this could never happen in the real world. This is not a failure on the author's part, but rather the failure of too limited an imagination on the part of these readers. Events as they have occurred since this book was published in 1994 have, unfortunately, shown just how possible this kind of thing is, if not exactly right in all its details. But it is clear that America can be attacked in many more ways than the traditional military methods, from economics to bio-war to terrorists. How we can maintain our traditional freedoms while nullifying these threats is a continuing question that so far does not have any simple answer.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)