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Book Review: The Sentinels: Fortunes of War by Gordon Zuckerman

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The Sentinels: Fortunes of War is the first book from Gordon Zuckerman. It is about six economics doctoral students who decide that the evils created by the Nazis must stop. Their way to combat this is to steal millions of dollars worth of gold from them. It’s a book with many fine qualities, such as a wonderful cover design created by Greenleaf Book Group LLC, but it is not a good book by any stretch of the word.

Mr. Zuckerman had a great premise for a story: steal Nazi gold to halt their war effort. It’s noble; it sounds fun; its setting is one of the most interesting of the modern age. And yet at every turn the book fails on that premise. Its nobility is destroyed by the sheer wealth the group already has. They’re the sons and daughters of the wealthiest people around. Their wealth and power of influence is such that they can get access to hidden dock fortresses, get a large detail of the President’s Secret Service to guard them for two years, and use the US military as their own personal taxi system around the world.

What could they possibly want with that gold? They want to make wine and use that to supply them with the capital to steal from other nations and corporations that they deem unrighteous. The question of that morality is never brought up nor is their Power Cycle idea (the way they determine if people are using their wealth inappropriately) ever explored or questioned. The book’s enjoyment factor is extremely limited since it takes 1/3 of the book before the plot appears and when it arrives we mourn its existence because it’s painfully dull.

In one of the book’s most unintentionally hilarious moments Jacques Roth (our lead protagonist, international playboy, master athlete, and brilliant mind who’s never seen women as real people) meets Natalie, a beautiful expert actress in London.

Natalie looked into Jacques’ eyes and said, “In case you were wondering, I recognized you from your football — excuse me, soccer — playing days. As a young girl, I accompanied my brothers to most of England’s matches. Whenever they played the French, I waited for the sight of the tall, handsome captain. Of course, I always hoped the best for England,” she laughed. “But you were my prince. Then, eight years ago, you suddenly disappeared — no more newspaper articles, no more soccer games. I lost track of you. So tell me, prince, where have you been?”

This paragraph is particularly bad, but its problems reappear throughout the novel. Each character speaks in this exposition heavy manner with no character voice of their own. The brain recoils at the fact that a Englishwoman and Frenchman would call football soccer, especially since one of them played the game years back. Of course, that point needs addressing since Jacques would have to have played the game in his teens and, even if he was a soccer prodigy, how did he make captain of a professional team? And, while we’re at it, is Mr. Zuckerman insinuating that all of England and all of France only have one team apiece? Of course, Natalie’s stalker tendencies do not freak Jacques out, and they sleep together about an hour later because they’re in love. That is until Jacques eyes an old friend and then his inner monologues lament, “How could I, a playboy of wealth who’s never seen women as real people, be in love with two women!” This ill-conceived character trait continues through the rest of the novel until you wish either girl would grow a spine (and a brain attached to it) and bash the whining idiot’s head with the nearest blunt object.

The reader cannot care about any of the characters since their wealth and status lift them above any worry or care. If they want something they have it! They’re a group of pampered drunk brats. Near the end of the novel three characters share two bottle of champagne and then drive to a restaurant to have two more bottles of wine. In nearly three hundred pages these six people go through tens of thousands of dollars worth of alcohol. These super rich drunk kids then wax philosophically about how selfish industrialist ruin the world and that they must stop them.

This is not a final draft of a story. It’s a semi-promising rough draft. There is no tension and no real antagonist to speak of. The book cares more about dwelling on which of the Six Sentinels are sleeping with each other and other poorly written soap opera elements. There is no thrilling “steal the gold” moment since they duplicate bonds after a money transfer.

The closest any character gets to action is when a mercenary group called Samson hunts them, but they’re the least frightening mercenaries I’ve ever read. Their attempts to stop six whiny pampered brats make the Keystone Kops look like effective. When they do kidnap one of their group they just hold them in a cell and do not torture them for information. At one point, Jacques is brought into a regulatory hearing about the duplicate bonds he had forged. He walks in and spouts off two paragraph long diatribes and walks out of the hearing as though he walked out of the kitchen without being told he could leave!

The cover tells me this is the first in a series of Sentinel books. So I’m going to offer Mr. Zuckerman some advice. Work on character motivation and try to make at least one of the six likable. Work on your plotting and pacing because no matter how well-done the character work is, if they’re not doing something, then they’re boring. As a general rule between first draft and final draft you should have removed a third of the pages, and this book could lose a fair deal more. As-is, this is a very disappointing, boring, and characterless start to a series, and I cannot say I look forward to revisiting these characters.

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About Tim Rainey

  • Tim Rainey

    I know! It’s cover says Robin Hood like and the characters drone on about how industrialists use money for ill so they must steal the money…but they never once think “And then we can use that 2 billion dollars for good.” No. It’s funding for their club house.