Book Review: Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista by Matthew Bracken

As noted previously, I read Matthew Bracken's first foray into dramatic fiction with some interest, and found his first book to be full of interesting ideas but flawed in its execution. I picked up his second book expecting rather more of the same, but was quite pleasantly surprised when I discovered that many of the problems with his first book have been largely resolved in Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista.

The book's premise is interesting to begin with. It starts off five years after the events of EFAD, and the United States of America are hardly even recognisable as such. The country is suffering from a massive economic depression, caused by the bursting of a huge derivatives bubble which has destroyed virtually every major bank and required the Federal Reserve to backstop the entire country with fiat money built on nothing more than thin air. Hyperinflation inevitably follows, with gold rising to over $75,000/oz in the old greenback currency. The Fed craps the Zimbabwe Solution out of its ass and proceeds to wipe it off with the Constitution, enforcing a new "blue buck" currency that exchanges the old greenbacks at a rate of 10 to 1. Meanwhile, down south, the results of decades of virtually untrammeled immigration have come to a head. Mexican immigrants and agitators are seeking to recreate some mythical land called "Aztlan", populated by La Raza and governed in accordance with the very best traditions of Marxism-Leninism.

(Does any of this sound like what we're going through now?)

Into this rather bleak future comes Ranya Bardiwell, the heroine of the first book, escaping from a detention centre where she was held for five years after giving birth to her son. She goes on a single-minded quest to get her son back, and the book follows her adventures throughout the state of New Mexico- sorry, Nueva Mexico- as she meets a rather interesting cast of characters along the way. The book alternates between various points of view, too- an antagonist from the first book survives to make his return here, and the adoptive father of Ranya's son, Brian, gets a fair amount of time as a point-of-view character as well.

This book doesn't try to paint things in shades of grey, which suits me just fine. The protagonists are portrayed as intelligent, resourceful men and women who are trying to stay alive and safe in spite of a government that seeks to strip them of every liberty, while being pitted against a massive invasion and revolution taking place in America's southern states. The antagonists are portrayed as midwitted egalitarians, rakishly devious, or even as outright thugs. The character of Ramos Basilios, for instance, is depicted as a sort of New Mexican Che Guevara- and anyone who knows what a coward and psychopathic butcher the real Che Guevara was, can appreciate the comparison.

Bracken doesn't pull any punches with his writing, either. His take on government workers is even more hostile than my own. The prison warder at Ranya's detention facility, for instance, is a lesbian who uses sexual favours to get her way with women at the facility. The first prison guard you encounter sounds like the kind of poorly educated, ebonics-spewing lowlife that you find at your average DMV facility. The new regional Director of Homeland Security is nothing better than an intelligent thug, and a massive hypocrite at that. One particularly graphic scene roughly in the middle of the book, in which one antagonist basically engages in a homosexual act with a perfect example of what Lenin once called a "useful idiot", nearly made me puke. (Which would have been a bit of a problem, given that I was waiting for a train at the time.)

What I like best about this book is its view of the future. It's a bleak one, make no mistake. This country is going to hell in a handbasket, and Bracken clearly sees the same future that I do. The book spends a lot less time going through personal character histories and a lot more time building a realistic, believable environment that is very similar to what people like me think is going to happen in the US in the not-too-distant future. The writing has been tightened up considerably. The Lara Croft-like attributes that I found rather absurd for a 21-year-old kid in the first book are gone. In their place we see a driven, determined, and frankly rather more interesting 26-year-old woman. There is more precision to the language, and more emphasis on making the story believable as well as entertaining.

Overall, this is a vastly improved effort compared to his previous book. I've just started on the third book in the trilogy, Domestic Enemies and Traitors, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Bracken can do with that material.

Verdict: 4.2/5; not quite perfect but a huge improvement over the previous book


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