You should always be careful when you step through the looking glass and enter the surreal and while novels provide a relatively safe way to do so even then the results can be unsettling. Not too long ago I stepped through upon opening a book entitled “Prayers for the Assassin”. In this book we learn in the prologue the United States experienced a post Iraq mega-malaise, a major economic downturn equal to or worse than the Great Depression, and as the fabric of a tired disillusioned society frays a major conversion of the “blue states” populations to Islam who were tired of the empty shell of the Christian faith. The killing stroke for the country came in the form of two terrorist nuclear bombs, supposedly planted by the Israelis, that destroyed New York and Washington DC plunging the country into a second civil war as the Islamic north and west try to conquer the south that turned back to its Christian roots and wanted no part of the new Islamic States of America forming the independent nation of the Bible Belt. The main body of the story takes place decades later as the heroes Rakkim and Sarah, both citizens of the Islamic republic, race to expose that it was not the Israelis that nuked us but a fanatic billionaire Muslim called the “Old One” who wishes to establish a global Caliphate. As they dodge an even more fanatic assassin sent by the Old One to kill them they struggle to collect the final pieces of evidence of the attacks they journey through a polluted and the very alien land of The Islamic States of America.
The second novel of the announced trilogy, “Sins of the Assassin” has been released and this time we take a trip into the Bible Belt states, and just so you understand right off it ain’t no wonderland. After the Second American Civil War that killed up to 36 million Americans the Islamic States ended up in control with the blue states of the north east, the Midwest, and the Pacific states, along with most of the Rocky mountain states. An independent Nevada where the civil war was barely a minor bump in the gambling profits, and Mormon Utah which controls parts of several other states it borders both wiggled out from the Islamic government. The Bible Belt in turn got the states of the old Confederacy, most of Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia. For the Bible Belt, South Florida broke away and is independent. At the start of the second book a couple of years have passed from the first and we quickly learn that both of the major American nations are having territory claimed by its major and more advanced nations to the north and south. The Mexican Empire has already taken a small chunk of the southwest from both countries and wants more. South Florida, suffering from flooding from global warming, wants territory all the way into Georgia, and even Canada wants a nice chunk of the northern Midwest states. But even with all this going on the various factions in both the Islamic republic and the Bible Belt fear each other more. So much that when Islamic republic intelligence catches wind of a Bible Belt warlord, Colonel Zachary Smitts, is searching for a doomsday weapon developed and hidden by the old United States it has to send someone either to steal it or destroy before the Bible Belt can use it on them. Sending Rakkim and a super-geek kid Leo into the Bible Belt we are soon exposed to the nasty underbelly of how this part of the old United States has fallen. David Koresh’s former compound in Waco is a major tourist attraction which every Sunday the ATF attack is recreated on a full scale replica. And yes, Koresh and his followers are the tragic good guys fighting off the nasty federal government agents. While racism is dead in the Bible Belt, indentured servitude is a commonly used method to collect debts or “teach someone a trade”. Coming full circle, Bible Belt Americans are the mid-21st century’s dirt cheap labor providing cheap commercial products for Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, and a whole range of 1st world countries for which neither the Islamic republic or the Bible Belt can be called members. And of the two major American nations while the Bible Belt keeps most of the form of government of the old United States its central government is weak with local warlords holding most of the power.
As Rakkim and Leo enter the Bible Belt through what remains of Texas not part of the Mexican Empire and work eastward toward the Colonel we get a good look at rural poverty, corruption, and abject decay of what was once the most advanced country on the planet. Rakkim and Leo briefed that the warlord colonel is a dangerous man out to destroy the Islamic republic find him to be a thoughtful caring man after working their way into his camp. Yes, he is a Christian and patriot to the Bible Belt but he is in no way a threat to their country. Given that the elected Bible Belt leadership is extra eager to sale both the people and their natural resources off at rock bottom bargain prices as a warlord he honestly is an improvement. The worst things that can be said about him is that once the super secret weapon, hidden in an abandon coal mine, is found he plans on selling it to the Chinese who are the leading world power with the Russians nipping at their heels. Rakkim makes some seriously disturbing discoveries as his plan to steal the hidden weapon works his way to a conclusion, namely what the weapon actually is and in its current shape. Saying anymore would be giving far too much away in an otherwise enjoyable futuristic thriller. The biggest drawbacks I will discuss involve Rakkim’s discovery of a secret cabal of people from both the Islamic republic, namely Rakkim’s wife who is major player in their government, and the Bible Belt who are at least exploring ways to begin to work toward reunification of the two countries. The author has created, in my opinion, an unbridgeable scenario between the two and given how the Islamic republic and the Bible Belt populace view each other a reunification strains the book’s credibility. Also an issue is the comic book villain of the Old One who has a strong hand in what goes on in the second book. The Old One is somehow a combination of Lex Luthor, the emperor from Star Wars, and a hundred-plus year old Donald Trump with his hands in everything around the world. But ignoring him and just exploring the American dystopia while cheering on the conflicted but heroic Rakkim still makes this an excellent read.
Our country faces severe challenges across a whole range of issues as we enter the 21st century. For me part of the attraction of this trilogy is safely reading about this surreal world in the comfort of an easy chair as I sip a cold ice tea. While this review and these books should in no way be thought of a prediction of future events it would be unwise to discount them as a cheap thriller. The problems that plunged the fictional United States of these books into a spiritual and societal depression, economic collapse, then civil war are real even if we never see terrorist nuclear weapons explode in this country. Far too many people from all factions (left, right, liberal, conservative, fruitcake, or wacko) view but a single facet of the world and are hell-bent ever to see it through someone else’s eyes. The United States has enjoyed the pinnacle of world power these last couple of decades but has lost the vision of what put it in this spot. Americans have generally become conceited and lazy thinking the world owes us something simply because we view ourselves as the rulers of the world. God, karma, or simple history usually has a place for those who view themselves that way and to put it kindly it is the pages of a dusty unread forgotten history book. When you’re on top of the world and abuse your status there is only one way to go and its down.