Thursday, June 23, 2016

Splinter Cell: Barracuda review

    Splinter Cell: Barracuda is the sequel to the Splinter Cell novel by Raymond Benson. Both are, more or less, prequels to the original game but serve as independent adventures in their own right. For those unfamiliar with Splinter Cell, it is the adventures of Sam Fisher, secret agent operating for Third Echelon (a classified division of the NSA).

    In the previous novel, Sam successfully decimated the arms dealing terrorist organization known as the Shop but he did not destroy it. This novel, they make a return with vengeance on their mind. Having made an alliance with a renegade Chinese general, they hope to sell him the necessary nuclear arms and guidance systems in order to attack Taiwan.

    Meanwhile, Sam is starting up a relationship with his Krav Maga instructor Katia, despite the potential danger to both their lives. A mole has infiltrated Third Echelon and compromised not only Sam's identity but numerous other important operations. It's a race against the clock to prevent Taiwan from being invaded and the US coast potentially getting nuked.

    This is an okay follow-up to the original novel, resolving many of the original story's lingering plotthreads but it's not something I'm exactly overwhelmed by either. There's no real dramatic anchor the way the first book had Sarah's kidnapping. It doesn't help the Shop repeatedly shows itself to be foolish by attempting to directly challenge a branch of the US government. Likewise, General Tsun never receives any characterization other than he wants to conquer Taiwan no matter how many people has to kill in order to do it.

    Sam Fishers' relationship with Katia could have been better developed and possibly become a major part of the character's arc in the books. Instead, the relationship blows through the various stages of romance before coming to a swift climax which I think was used for cheap dramatic effect. The character of Katia is used more as a prop than an actual character and I think the book suffers as a result.

    Oddly, my favorite character in this book is one of the lesser villains in Mike Chang. Mike is a Triad infiltrator of Third Echelon who wants to make a fortune selling information from the NSA to terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, he's so confident of his backers he never stops to think that he's nothing more than a loose end they'll need to clean up. It results in him making some truly stupid decisions which is a wonder to behold. By the end, I think he's one of the more despicable but entertaining villains I've read in a while.

    The book isn't entirely without humor and I found a lot of fun to be had in hilarious moments like Sam getting captured by his targets wife, thinking he's just a burglar only for Sam to try to convince her he's a private detective and unwittingly set off a domestic disturbance incident which gets his surveillance target killed. It's comedy of errors moments like that which make this better than a generic run of the mill techno-thriller.

    In conclusion, this was an entertaining novel but not as good as the previous edition. It's a fairly paint-by-the-numbers work and one I think is okay but not especially noteworthy. It's most enjoyable for seeing the Shop finally get what was coming to them but even that's not a massive selling point. Raymond Benson could have done better (and has in other books).


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