The year is 2029. The United States has been hit by a Chinese EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that has caused national chaos. One Kingdom Under Heaven by Alastair Luft takes the reader into the minds of a special-ops international infiltration team of assassins, and their counterparts, Chinese leaders’ intent on ruling the world.
Immediately the intense plot grabs your attention with Chinese officials’ interrogating the captured leader of a covert terrorist team. A back story reveals the relentless attack and assassination attempt by the protagonist, Malcolm Kwong, “(F)ormer Lieutenant-Commander in the United States Navy. Former SEAL,” an assassin for the USA. Malcolm assembles a furtive team to avenge his family’s death due to the EMP and to retaliate against the Chinese for acts of war against the United States. As the plot flashes back to Malcolm’s story of frustration and disillusionment, it discloses his personality and character and the make-up of his team of avengers.
Malcolm’s team sets out on a clandestine trek across 700 miles of China’s Taklamakan desert with 18 camels and handlers and the constant threat of dehydration. Readers can feel the desert heat, sweat dripping, grit, sand, and the lack of water. Sand “got into the collars of their shirts and the seams of their pants…into their armpits and knees and groins…mixed with their sweat to chafe and cause raw aching sores”.
Intrigue and violence surround the team. Survival in the inhospitable environment, personality conflicts, and challenges with camels add to the suspense and heart-pumping action. The motives of individual team members add to the drama, as does a mysterious political activist, Ismail Khoja. Brutality during hand-to-hand combat, shootouts, and murder recall James Bond’s martial arts tricks and defense tactics from “007” movies.
The political motives of the Chinese government, and some of their leaders’ vision of a world unified in global peace and tranquility are not universal. Thus leading to internal discord between Chinese leaders and an overall leadership debacle.
Author Luft is a masterful storyteller using an unusual format. Malcolm’s cover story and personal story are augmented in various degrees in his retelling during interrogations. This adds new information about personal relationships and hardships, much like the bits and pieces of current breaking news stories on contemporary TV that add new information as it is revealed. Told from a terrorist’s point of view, Malcolm recalls experiences, remembered facts, and justified decisions as he is grilled by the Chinese.
With contemporary interest in the coronavirus pandemic originating in China, and with United States citizenry experiencing political unrest and many distrusting China’s aims, this novel is timely, masterful, and will keep the reader engrossed. The author has published other equally intense novels.