Review – Wake of War, by Zac Topping

WAKE OF WAR is a near future novel about a civil war raging in the American West, Utah to be specific. It’s not so much about why the country fractured, or even really the effort to knit the fracture back together (or drive it further apart, depending on point of view) and more about how the people who fight the war enter a crucible of irrevocable personal change. This isn’t about Churchill inspiring a nation under siege, or even about the clash of Patton and Rommel, field commanders wiling to breathe diesel fumes and get dirty in a war with the hands on movement of units across a theater. No, WAKE OF WAR is about ordinary soldiers, rifle in hand, and how the war puts them into a crucible and leaves them behind, irrevocably altered by the experience.

We follow a young American soldier, James Trent, who enlisted in the Army seeking the advantages afforded to veterans when he completes his service period and returns to civilian life. Trent was no true believer, but rather simply someone who saw the Army as a means to further his life’s ambitions. Yet, he finds himself thrust into the front lines of an anti-insurgency in all the grim and brutal details that entails. We’re given a window into his journey as he gradually loses the touchpoints of the society he left behind and is ostensibly fighting to protect, until by the close of the book the young man is something cynical, damaged, someone who comes to see his old life as something distant and foreign. The life he envisioned for him before his combat experience comes to be something foreign, his hopes and aspirations twisted and changed so that to whatever extent he emerges “victorious,” doing so comes at a personal cost that is visceral to experience as a reader. In a way, he’s a symbol of how the trauma of war changes those who fight it.

Trent’s experiences are juxtaposed against a rebel sniper, Sam Cross, who is a young woman who fights with the insurgency and does so for her own reasons. She enters the story as an avenging angel, a sniper who will earn the moniker “Reaper.” Where Trent fought because the needs of the Army dictated he fight, Cross fought because she believed in the cause. Yet, much as the war changed Trent, the fighting does the same to Cross. Regardless of why you enter the crucible, the heat of combat changes you just the same.

Lastly, the book provides us with the perspective of a grizzled mercenary, Markus. Unlike Trent or Cross, Markus has chosen war as his trade. He and his company have been in one war or another for ages. But even for someone like Markus, war has a way of reaching out and making itself felt.

Nobody, it seems, is immune from being affected by the wake that war leaves in its passing.

Ultimately WAKE OF WAR is a pulse-pounding novel. It’s short, punchy, and relentless. There’s more than just gunfire and military trappings. It’s captures the souls of its characters and gives you a front row seat to how those souls bear the trauma of combat. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Buy it from the Seattle store,


or your local bookstore.

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