It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a Jeff Shaara book. The undisputed king of historical fiction, Shaara has shifted focus away from our more well known-wars, to one that gets too little notice: the Korean War.
If you don’t know the style that Shaara prefers to write in, it goes something like this. He picks a couple commanders, maybe a grunt or two, and possibly someone from the other side to exhaustively research and tell the tale through their eyes as they may have experienced it. In The Frozen Hours, Shaara follows three men: Marine General Oliver Smith, Marine Private Pete Reilly, and Chinese Commander Sung Shi-Lun, through one of the more interesting, and horrible, conflicts in the entire war.
Pushed by overzealous commanders, Smith has moved his troops deep into the North Korean mountains on a journey towards the Yalu River, the border with China. There’s a couple problems though: winter is approaching one of the coldest parts of mainland Asia, Smith’s marines and army units are spread out so far that their ability to support each other is almost nil, and the Chinese have 100,000 soldiers waiting in the hills to cut off each section of the American positions and destroy them. Fueled by faulty intelligence and an over reliance on the threat of air power, it’s only Smith’s willingness to delay or amend orders that saves what should have been a disastrous military blunder.
What Shaara does, and what he does extremely well, is give the reader an all around picture of the war being fought. We get the big picture with Smith, we get the nitty-gritty action with Reilly, and we get the counter perspective with Sung. In many ways, Sung’s brief few chapters were the highlight of the book for me. He is not portrayed as just a villain. He has clear motivations and reasons for his actions. You really get to see and understand the other side of the equation when so often we just pay attention to the American perspective.
I learned a lot about a war I knew very little of. And I was thoroughly entertained while doing so. If you like fiction grounded in reality, I’d pick it up. Or any Shaara book really.
3 out of 4 stars.