Alix Nico is a red-haired, nano-teched, jacked-up, hard-drinking, part-android, smart-ass, homicidal, loose-cannon Interceptor, an operative for a shadowy intelligence gathering agency called Extreme Operations or ExOps. She is nineteen years old, following in her alcoholic really-loose-cannon father’s footsteps, in a 1980 that’s nothing like the one where Jimmy Carter was finishing up his single term and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was playing in theaters. Blades of Winter by G.T. Almasi is the first book of the Shadowstorm series, introducing Alix, aka Scarlet, aka Shortcake, aka Hot Shot, Angel, and a few other names as well.
Almasi’s world-building goes like this. (He draws a deep breath.) “Okay, um, Germany conquered Europe during World War II and there’s a four-way Cold War among Greater Germany, USA, China and Russia. Germany owns most of the world’s oil supply. All the groovy sci-fi tech that we love, nanotech, bio-tech, drug-tech, info-tech and geno-tech has all happened just like we imagine in 2012, only it’s 1980. Now don’t ask any questions, ‘kay?” With all these geopolitical changes (Jews are enslaved in Europe and Richard Nixon is on his third term) it’s a little disappointing that the villain is a garden variety middle-Eastern terrorist.
The world-building is good enough, though, to carry the action of this plot, and Blades of Winter is basically one wild ride after another. The best-written action sequence is Alix’s operation to rescue her kidnapped mother Cleo. The most hilarious one is a high-speed car chase through the streets of Paris, with a crazed driver/tour guide.“L’Arc de Triomphe! Erected to commemorate — “ Jacques cranks the wheel right and left to avoid a police car. “— ze victory of Napoleon — “ He chases the BMW into the huge traffic circle at the monument. “— at Austerlitz in 1806.”
The most exciting, if unlikely, action sequence is the final one, when Alix abducts the cookie-cutter terrorist from a top secret lab in the middle of Persia, seconds before the USA destroys the installation with a cruise missile.
That’s really the reason to read Blades of Winter, for the adrenaline-triggering, white-knuckling breakneck crazy-time thrill rides that make up 75% of the book. If Alix’s role as an ExOps Interceptor is to be dropped into foreign cities and create acute mayhem, she totally rocks. If she is supposed to actually carry out a mission, like the covert abduction of an intelligence asset, then she is terrible. This is confusing, but ExOps keeps promoting her, usually using lines like, “Wow, you killed, like, eight people and you didn’t die — Good job!” So I think maximum damage is the intent of ExOps.
Shadowstorm is a series, and none of the overarching story questions about cloning, double agents and what really happened to Alix’s father, are addressed here. Alix and her tream — her Intelligence guy and her handler, called the “Front Desk” in this universe — are developed enough to carry the action and meet the mandatory wise-crackery quotient. Blades of Winter is fun, fun the way a gory, fast-paced ultra-violent video game is fun. If you like video games and lethal red-haired women, check out Blades of Winter.