Available on 03/21/2023
There is a particular skill to writing books in a series. You need to be able to write each book in such a way that a fresh reader could conceivably pick it up and enjoy it without having experienced any of the others. At the same time, each book needs to build upon the ones that came before it, offering a deepening of the story in such a way that readers from the beginning will be satisfied. I came to The Great Unmaking as a fresh reader. 350 pulse-pounding pages later, I closed the book, thoroughly convinced of Nelson’s mastery of a fever-pitch plot.
The Great Unmaking is the third book in Brian Nelson’s techno-thriller series The Course of Empire Series. The name of this series is taken from the famous series of paintings by Thomas Cole, and like those paintings, Nelson’s series explores the lines between pastoral idealism and the inevitable gluttony and decay of human civilization. There’s a hint of this legacy in the incredible cover design as well, which was what originally caught my eye. A lot of covers these days are really, really bad. This one is stunning.
While the story follows multiple characters, the plot centers on Erik Hill, a scientist working for a secret United States military program. The program’s goal is the weaponization of a new nanotechnology, a technology already possessed by China and other world powers. A technology that could, quite literally, unmake the fabric of the world.
As the story kicks off, the lab Hill works for has changed hands. The Admiral previously in charge has been removed from command, and a psychotic general has wormed his way into the hot seat. His plans for the technology remain unclear, but as his administrative excesses increase, it becomes clear to Hill that he must try to undermine the man at any cost.
Meanwhile, a supposed terrorist named Riona Finley has gained access to the nanotechnology. Will she use it to burn the world to the ground, or will she somehow make good on her promise to undo humanity’s decades of environmental destruction?
There’s a host of sub-plots from the prior two books in the series, and even a fresh reader will find themselves able to easily follow the backstories, while remaining hooked on the action of the present. For those who have followed the series all the way through, there are enough twists, turns, and shout-outs to previous plots to keep you hooked all the way through.
I think the greatest question for me, while reading, was how the so-called “neo-anarchist” Riona Finley would fit into the plot. I’m frequently frustrated with how writers cast anarchism as a dangerous and negative ideology, and leery of seeing the name of the philosophy slapped into a story as a synonym for “bad guy.” Would there be any surprises waiting for me? Yes and no, as it turned out: but enough that even my jaded expectations were somewhat subverted. Let’s just say, everybody in this book has an objective, and not all those objectives are as obvious as they at first appear.
These books are clearly techno-thriller military novels: high-paced, plot-driven, and brimming with action. Nelson does an impressive job of building character depth, and of showing us the humanity of his characters, in a way that books in this genre don’t always manage to do. I was hooked enough by this book to go back and explore the first two, and that really comes down to how interesting the characters are, and how adept Nelson is at building a crisp plot. Ultimately, this will be a great read for fans of the genre, as well as for anyone looking for a weekend page-turner that also explores some serious issues of runaway militarism and global climate catastrophe. A thinking-person’s military techno-thriller… what’s not to love?
– Odin Halvorson
The Great Unmaking (The Course of Empire Series, #3)
Hardcover: $27.99 (USD)
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 03/21/2023
Hi, my name is Odin Halvorson. I’m a writer, editor, and itinerant volunteer. I founded Round Table Writers after completing my MFA in creative writing, and my own writing can be found around the web. My regular book review column here at The Strand focuses on mystery and science fiction books from across the spectrum. Inquiries for reviews can be made here.