The Bottom Line: A timely, powerhouse military thriller with the highest possible stakes, Sea of Red reads like future history. Highly recommended.
Sea of Red opens in the South China Sea weeks after the Chinese military downed a Malaysian drone. As the United States Navy and Royal Malaysian Navy conduct joint military exercises, a Chinese destroyer appears and refuses to yield to their warnings. Soon, over the international distress frequency, a Chinese voice declares the area as Chinese territory, demanding that all foreign vessels leave immediately.
This is just the first volley in an explosive battle between the U.S. and China. While the fight for Taiwanese independence is the focus of much of the book, author James Bultema raises the stakes considerably, making clear that China wants complete control of the airspace and sealanes from the western Pacific Ocean through the Indian Ocean – and will do anything it takes to purge the U.S. military from the area.
While much of the book’s military action takes place on the oceans and in the air, its most breathless scenes are actually in the presence of the Chinese and American presidents. In a captivating scene in Beijing’s Ministry of National Defense, the president and commanding military generals listen to General Wang describe what he envisions as “our version of Pearl Harbor.” What follows is a chilling plan to neutralize America’s carrier fleet – including those in drydock in Virginia – using hypersonic glide missiles. The plan is to be executed at the same time as an invasion of Taiwan.
Throughout, Bultema successfully deploys a huge cast or characters, ranging from military police to Presidents. Military thriller fans looking for a central character through which the entire story is told, ala Jack Ryan, won’t find one. Bultema’s style is far more realistic than that. Not unlike Max Brook’s World War Z, or any George R.R. Martin novel, Bultema takes us into the experiences of the commanders and soldiers on the front lines, whether they are in the Oval Office or on the USS Reagan. In short, the crisis itself is the main character.
All the details feel right, from the security briefings to the two plums and unfermented tea served to President Zhang. The result is a book that reads like a historical account of the people who were there. Throughout, Bultema demonstrates a sophisticated knowledge of military technology, tactics and geopolitics, with actions that are always engaging.
The novel also shines in its experiential service to readers. Bultema begins by listing an index of characters by occupation and job title, as well as a list of military and acronyms that will prove helpful even to military news junkies. Another nice touch – visuals of some of the major islands and settings in the book that help them come alive.