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Red Phoenix

Larry Bond
In Print
Warner Books (1989)

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This entry created 18 September 2021. Last revised on 18 September 2021.

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Red Phoenix
Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star (8.33)

713 pages. Four maps, author's note, list of characters, glossary.

It's the early 1990s. Kim Il-sung is still the dictator of North Korea, but has failed to specify a successor, and is losing grip on power. His son, ambitious Kim Jong-il, plans to ensure his succession to power by attacking South Korea, which will force party leaders to coalesce around him as Dear Leader. His secret pact with the Soviet Union has provided access to state-of-the-art weapons, though they little know what he has in mind…

This novel is the story of the Second Korean War, as told in brief recollections from the viewpoint of people caught up in the war, major figures or ordinary people, on the battlefield or in the White House, some of whom feature for only a moment, and others which become recurring characters throughout the story.

Be aware that you won't get to the actual 'war' until about 200 pages into the novel, as the author sets up background, introduces characters, agents provoke riots and harsh reprisals, politicians in Washington condemn South Korean over-reactions, and South Korean generals consider action when their elected government seems hesitant to act.

Then eventually we get to the war. Since this is a novel, the author doesn't give us an hour-by-hour, comprehensive overview of the war. Instead, the reader is given snapshots from the perspective of key characters, while the author keeps a few secrets up his sleeve.

One of the recurring characters is General John Duncan McLaren, Commander Combined Forces, Korea. This means we often get to see what he's doing, while not being told what his plan is!

Two more recurring characters are Captain Tony 'Saint' Christopher, an Air Force F-16 pilot; and on the other side, Colonel Sergei Ivanovitch Borodin, a MiG-29 pilot in North Korea on a training mission. From their eyes, we get an impression of the air war, while Christopher's girlfriend, civilian database expert Anne Larson, gives us a glimpse of the war from the perspective of contract civilians engulfed in an evacuation.

Another recurring character is Second Lieutenant Kevin Little, fresh from ROTC and in a forward outpost when war begins; and his friend, Second Lieutenant Rhee Han-Gil, a liaison officer. We see the ground war at close hand through their viewpoints.

There's a large cast of characters, and the reader may need to refer to the guide at the front of the novel to keep track of them all, as the author shows us what is happening at sea, in Pyongyang, at the Kremlin, and back in Washington.

Though the author does take a few potshots at American politicians and political appointees, he avoids discussing partisan American politics. (Read between the lines if you will.)

Given Larry Bond's background in naval service, as a civilian naval analyst, as the author of wargaming rules that have spawned computer games, and as an author or co-author of many military thrillers, he provides much combat action in this novel, with the technical details gamers love to see.

As a novel, it is competently written, but don't expect thrilling prose or engrossing characters – it's the war that's the star. But there is suspense as North Korea continues advancing, and a twist at the end.

Note that this version of the Second Korean War assumes lots of Soviet aid to the North Koreans, and a major South Korean screw-up at the start, which gives opportunity for a North Korean triumph… not your standard hypothetical war.

Can you game it? The novel gives you a lot of potential scenario ideas and even campaign ideas for ground combat, but you would have to fill in the details. For war at sea or in the air, though, more detail is given, so those scenarios would require less effort to put together.

It's a long read, but there's lots of military action. Recommended.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.