The Eagle’s Claw: A Novel of the Battle of Midway, by Jeff Shaara

Eight stars

While I was never one to get excited about war, there’s something about Jeff Shaara and his writing that always invigorates me. It could be that I come away with a new perspective, no matter the story, or that Shaara breathes new life into battles and maneuvers that have long since been presented in history books, but the pieces of fictionalised military history always seem to pull me toward them, no matter who is front and centre. This is another novel set in the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War, where the Japanese have recently bombed Pearl Harbor. The Americans are still reeling from it, unsure where to point all the fingers of blame, though they must be careful. The Japanese are not resting on their laurels at all, knowing full well that the American enemy is far from permanently crippled. However, perhaps one key strike at Midway could truly bring the giant to its knees, but it will have to be executed precisely and in complete secret. June 4th, 1942 was the Battle of Midway and what a skirmish it was! Shaara is brilliant in his writing again and fans of his work, or war history with a slight fiction twist will love this piece as well!

The attack on Pearl Harbor was like nothing the Americans could have expected. As the country and its military reels at the surprise attack, America must dust itself off and face an enemy that fights in ways European militaries have never considered. Sly, cunning, and without bluster, the Americans face Japan and its slow, yet methodical, military forces that seek to claim control of the seas and the Pacific with a deliberate attack system, based on surprise.

While the Americans refuse to bow down in the Spring of 1942, they are unsure of what to expect from their new foe. Peering out along the Pacific, Japan has already claimed much of the Asian islands and is inching towards Hawaii. This is less the aggressive tactics of the Nazis, but could be equally as troubling, when US ships and planes have nowhere they can be safe on the open waters.

The Japanese refuse to relax after a successful attack on Pearl Harbor. They seek to keep making their presence known and have utilised some key military planning to choose their next target, in hopes of drawing the Americans into battle. It will have to be both a surprise and calculated, using codes that the Americans could never decipher. Key military commanders have an idea, choosing the island of Midway, but it will not simply fall because someone wishes it. This will have to be calculated and thoroughly planned to ensure success.

Clashes between these two military giants have been ongoing, with submarines lurking below and eyeing the battleship and aircraft carriers, making sure to strike when the need arises. However, the battle is not always below the waters, as Navy pilots are scanning the skies and military men scan radio transmissions as well, all in an effort to report to their higher-ups to receive new orders in this game of chess that is being played in a methodical manner, much different than the land battled in Europe around the same time.

As both sides inch closer, the prowess of the Japanese is key, with their tactical leaders and determination. However, it will be an American code breaker who learns of the plan and ensures those in leadership (and in the region) are able to prepare for the attack. What follows is not only a battle of military might, but wits and patience, as both sides fight for their survival in a clash that many have said turned the tide of things in the Pacific theatre. Told with sensational detail and using wonderful characters, Jeff Shaara proves that he is a master in the genre and readers with an interest in military history will surely devour this, even if the end result has been renounced many times before.

One need not be obsessed with the military to enjoy these stories, though an interest in battle and movement of troops and tactical efforts surely helps. Shaara takes these battles that have been key to American military growth and breathes a new life into them, creating characters who live them. It is a ‘now you are here’ approach that allows the reader to feel a part of the action, while still being surrounded with names and locations that may be familiar to them from history texts and recounting of key skirmishes during wartime. I love it and it truly teaches me while entertaining in equal measure.

As with many of his books, Shaara mixes actual historical figures with invented characters. This enriches the book and keeps it exciting for the reader, while also permitting constructed dialogue that may or may not have happened. Shaara’s approach to look at both sides and utilise plots in both military camps helps to give a well-roundedness to the story, adding depth and intrigue. By providing actual historical context in the Afterward, Shaara permits the reader to see where fact met fiction with all those who played a meaningful role in the story itself.

I knew little about Midway and even less about many of the men who starred in this piece, but Jeff Shaara made sure I did not leave with the same misunderstandings. His rich delivery of history in an exciting manner left me excited and wanting more, never worried about missing a key part of the narrative. Told from many perspectives, Shaara makes sure the story is thoroughly recounted from all angles, never siding with one group over the other. Each chapter is rich with information, both of the military manoeuvres and those actors involved in things, to the point that the reader can see how much angst and struggle went into the decisions and that this was not simply two sides, hungry for blood and seeking to destroy the other in a sick game. Shaara has always been my go-to for military history with a personal touch and that has not changed. I am happy to invest my time and efforts into his writing. I eagerly await what else he has in store for his large collection of fans.

Kudos, Mr. Shaara, for another winner. You dazzle like no author I’ve known in the genre and I appreciate it greatly.

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