ISBN: 978-1-99985599-4 (PB)
Sleeper: The Red Storm recounts a breathtaking series of events that take place in London, Chartres, the French Alps and Rome during the Second World War. The narrative opens in 1943 London, as a Russian spy is murdered by a supposed colleague in the tunnels of Mornington Crescent Underground Station. This violent act of treachery prefigures another just outside Chartres where the reader is introduced to central protagonist Will Starling, an agent for the Special Operations Executive who is working with the French Resistance. He and two Resistance fighters are about to launch a strategic attack on a pylon that supplies essential power to the occupying Nazi forces when, suddenly, they are alerted to the approach of German troops. Despite suspecting that they have been betrayed, the group courageously persist with their hazardous undertaking.
Back in London Will expresses his concerns that the team had been compromised by a traitor embedded within MI5, a disturbing theme that runs through the novel and creates nail-biting tension as the reader, like Will, doesn’t know who to trust. Meanwhile, along with fellow agent Anna Wilder, Will is charged with seeking out and destroying an unholy collaboration between the criminal organization known as VIPER and the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. It is believed that the alliance is developing a deadly new weapon that must be found and destroyed before it is unleashed upon the world.
Will and Anna were introduced in Sleeper, the first novel of the trilogy, when Starling was a vulnerable sixteen-year-old whose parents had been killed and whose sister, Rose, was missing. Will still doesn’t know whether Rose is dead or alive and his determination to find her, or discover what has happened to her, adds another strand to the narrative. In fact, Rose is in Rome where she is being held against her will by captors who prove to be increasingly unpleasant as the story unfolds. As Will struggles to contain his feelings for Anna, his anxiety about his sister and his desire to avenge his parents’ death, he finds himself confronted with diabolic villains who aim to destroy entire populations in order to control the planet.
The story contains historical fact, science fiction, mysticism and adventure - a sure recipe for a fascinating thriller that wrong-foots the characters and the reader, and characterization is a particular strength of this novel. Will and Rose Starling are endearing players in the deadly game of war, and both carry physical and psychological scars that make them susceptible to exploitation by nefarious characters posing as friends. The orphaned teenagers have been forced to mature quickly during one of the most horrific conflicts in European history and have enormous responsibility placed upon their young shoulders.
The Red Storm is the second in J.D.Fennell’s espionage trilogy, it is a high-octane rollercoaster of a novel in which the action barely pauses for breath and reality frequently melts into fantasy and back again. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended – bring on the final instalment!
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent