Picking up right where its predecessor, Fractured State, left off, Rogue State by Steven Konkoly is an excellent novel about resource scarcity, mercenaries, and privacy in an age of omnipresent technology.
Without giving too much away about either novel, Fractured State is about what would happen if California, facing resource shortages (mainly water) sometime in the near future, began to think about seceding from the United States. How would certain oligarchic interests, especially politicians and major agribusiness owners, respond? Konkoly predicts that the political struggle between the remain crowd (called the One Nation Coalition in both novels) and the leave side (called the California Liberation Movement) would eventually come to blows.
Rogue State is about what that fight between the two might look like. Low-level combat, hits on houses around the country, heavy use of mercenaries and allies in the drug cartels, and more are features of the combat in Rogue State.
However, the novel is really about more than that. While the action takes place because of the fight between the ONC and CLM, the themes running through the book are about far more important and real topics.
For instance, a major plot point is whether the main character, Nathan, will try to hide and protect his family or if he will stand up for what he knows to be right and fight despite the dangers. His story is one that patriots now might have to contend with; will you fight for what is right or will you hide from the culture war combat to protect your family?
Similarly, a major theme is the concept of privacy and how bad actors could use online data for nefarious ends. If you tried to run and hide from a determined group of hackers and mercenaries, could you? Or would the be able to use your credit card records, speeding tickets, and social media data to hunt you down? In our quest to always be connected, we’ve forgotten the value of keeping our cards close…
Finally, a major theme in Rogue State is the idea of the oligarchy versus the little guy. Both the CLM and ONC are run by the mega-wealthy; the citizens of California and the surrounding states are just their pawns. Their employees, fighters, and even fellow oligarchs are all just pieces to move on the chessboard in a quest to become even wealthier. To them, country and the well-being of one’s fellows means little when compared to cash.
All of those themes, along with Konkoly’s excellent writing style, combine to make Rogue State a terrific book. The plot is even better than in the first novel, the action is gripping and generally realistic, there are enough new characters to keep it interesting but not too many to make it confusing, and the heavy themes present throughout it all work well together and form a fun to read but also thought-provoking and, at times, emotional novel.
The cherry on top is Konkoly’s brilliance in creating the setting. Rogue State takes place mainly along the Mexico-US border and Konkoly uses the full extent of his world-building skills to make the setting just as gripping as the action that takes place in it. A drought has created dust storms that billow across the land, cartel activity and depopulation have made most of Arizona a barren, violent wasteland, and US military activity in the drug war has left a trail of burned-out cars and ghost towns.
In fact, the only part I didn’t like about Rogue State was that I didn’t expect it to jump right back into the action and was a bit disoriented that it picked up immediately where the previous novel ended. But, once I got reoriented with what was going on, I loved it. You will too.