Disclaimer: I received this book for free for review purposes
Let me just say this up front: I believe Clive Lee deserves high praise for his writing in Coral Hare for maintaining a balance of spy thriller tropes and historic realism. So, yeah, Mina (our main character) is going to somewhat improbably meet up with certain nemesis at nearly every turn and somewhat more improbably continue to fight after having endured grave bodily harm. At the same time, the novel maintains its historicity; Mina is brave, but has moments of weakness; and the spy gadgets are grounded in reality.
When I was at Baltimore Comic-Con 2014, I was attracted to a booth that had a man in a panama hat, a woman in a sailor fuku, and a woman dressed as a WWII nurse. Just what was going on here? Well, I spoke to Clive Lee and he let me know about the premise of the book. (And after reading the book, I now know that the women were both cosplaying different aspects of Mina while Clive appears to be cosplaying Lockwood) I am a geek on many subjects: computers, language, psychology, politics, and history. I really love World War II and the Cold War era history as so much was going on there at the nexus of politics and technology. It’s such a fun era to read about with the hindsight that everything turns out OK. (At least from a Western Democratic point of view)
Mr Lee tackles so much in this book and does such a good job of it without, I feel, beating us over the head with any kind of message. The book conveys the distrust of Mina for being of Japanese descent. But it also shows the difference in how the OSS viewed it (because they needed Japanese help) vs the American public (who needed to be whipped up into a war frenzy) The firebombing of Tokyo scene and the aftermath with a high-ranking Japanese soldier going through his destroyed city display Clive’s masterful ability to make us feel sympathy for both sides of the cause. World Wars I and II were the first time civilian targets became a large part of the war strategy (because conscription made it necessary to attack everyone, not just the military) and, to some degree, they are victims. Clive does a great job of depicting this.
As a story-teller, I really enjoyed that Clive takes Mina, has her go through basic training, and then jumps forward three years. We end up knowing that Mina is battle-hardened without Clive wasting time on story beats that don’t have to do with the premise of the book – the Japanese efforts at the atomic bomb.
One last thing – Clive’s style is incredibly cinematic. When the book started I found it distracting the way he was describing things that normally don’t get attention in a book – you could almost literally see the camera angles in your mind’s eye. (It’s no wonder, when I got to the author’s bio he’s a film-maker) However, the more I got used to the style, the more I really, really enjoyed it. In the end, the book ended up proceeding like a movie in my head. More than once I even found myself thinking – Mr Lee needs to get this made as an anime or as an HBO show. I think a movie would destroy the subtleties that make this book so great and would have to lose at least half of the missions to stay under 3 hours. But a premium cable show could do so much justice to this book; A nice – one-season show. Anime would allow the budget to remain smaller, but look at Game of Thrones – budget doesn’t appear to be an issue for premium TV.
Really only two negatives I can think of:
1) I’m reading v1.021 and the lines that separate the footnotes from the main text sometimes cover up main text – annoying formatting error.
2) The epilogue really killed it for me. I think Clive put it after all the historical notes because it’s a lark; a tribute to the campiness of James Bond movies. If it’d been right at the end, I would’ve subtracted a star because after how great the book walked the line of realism and tropes, it was too much.
So, definitely read this book if you like WWII and spy thrillers. I know I’ll be on the lookout for Clive’s next book.