© 2011 Jeff Shaara
The Final Storm is an appetizer served in lieu of a main course: tasty, but unsatisfying. As fine a story as it is, it's a frustratingly disappointing treatment of the Pacific War.
Jeff Shaara has penned three prior novels set during the Second World War, all set in the European theatre. Shaara borrows his father's intimate writing style, which combines traditional narration with a stream-of-consciousness approach that conveys the thoughts and emotions of his lead characters. In the case of the Final Front, "lead character" is a more accurate expression, for this novel distinguishes itself among Shaara's work by focusing heavily on one character: Clay Adams, Marine. Adams is among the ranks of the men who are expected to pray the Japanese army from Okinawa and set the stage for the greatest, bloodiest battle ever imagined: the Invasion of Japan.
The Final Front picks up in spring 1945, when Japan is defeated, but defiant: despite the lack of naval and aerial support, the Japanese soldiers on Okinawa fight ferociously and cost the American marines and infantry dearly. Battle is inevitably gruesome, but the island battles of the Pacific War are exemplars of the horrors of combat: Eugene Sledge's stomach-churning details of Okinawa ("hell's own cesspool") still linger with me over a year after reading his memoirs, and Shaara's account brought those memories into sharper focus. While the Battle of Okinawa is meant to depict the difficulties, cost, and savagery of the Pacific War as whole, the fourth act -- relatively minor -- offers Adams and the reader some relief by promising to bring the war to a swift conclusion through the use of the atomic bomb.
The fourth act seemed more like an epilogue than anything else: ultimately this is a novel about the Battle of Okinawa. Clay Adams is the predominate character, relegating almost everyone else to the sidelines until the final pages when Truman and bomber pilot Col. Paul Tibbets take priority. The focus on Adams may be a sign that Shaara is developing his own style (moving away from his father's use of multiple viewpoint characters from all sides), but it means that this is NOT a book about the Pacific War as a whole. Shaara is perfectly capable of penning a grand Pacific trilogy, one beginning in 1941 and following key characters, through to Okinawa and beyond, doing justice to the Marines, airmen, and sailors who fought, but apparently his publishers are in a hurry for him to write a Civil War trilogy to be published next year in time for several anniversaries.
While it's a fine story, I'm hard-pressed to recommend it. This isn't a suitable tribute to the Pacific War, and those wanting to read about Okinawa would be better served reading Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed.