The Sokolov series by Ian Kharitonov continues to be a unique, thought-provoking, darkly chaotic, no-holds-barred action espionage thriller for a bold and thinking class of readers. Czar of England takes the Sokolov brothers, Eugene and Constantine, on a globetrotting maze of deceit, tricks, and dangerous games of power through Monaco, Switzerland, and Maldives, while mostly centered in England.
Being expats on the run from their own government after being framed for terror attacks by the FSB in the previous books in the series, the Sokolovs are nomadic warriors motivated by honor and virtue in a world that’s too grim. Their archenemy in the series, the Russian President Frolov, continues to hunt them down, but the events of the previous book – Moscow Gold – has landed the brothers a huge warchest of Russian illegal money which they’re now using against their covert war against Frolov, but like any twisted thriller, things keep on getting twisted with unknown variables.
The story begins with a Russian politician and a powerful oligarch getting killed by shadowy forces working for Frolov. This sets the tone for his paranoid, bloodthirsty mind plotting against all the forces trying to take him out of power while he’s intending to make himself the new Czar to restore monarchy to Russia. Meanwhile, a powerful secret society in England is also plotting to stage a coup against Frolov and create a monarchy in Russia with their own puppet Czar. Caught in the middle of these two selfish factions are the Sokolov brothers who go through hell and survive the insane complexities of the story while doing their best to prevent both sides from winning in their twisted games.
Though the protagonists are of Russian origin, like the author, this is the type of story that will appeal to English-speaking readers. Just because the Russians are villains, don’t think a western government are the good guys. There are no good political entities, countries, or players in this series as it stays smartly apolitical and portrays all sides in varying shades of evil or amoral hues with their own agendas and motivations. With the author’s roots and research, the large extent of Russian history and culture that flows into the book is remarkably amazing.
The book contains criminal organizations, terrorists, mercenaries, secret societies, hookers, oligarchs, assassinations, super cars, explosive action, guns and blades, spies, proxies, poisons, drugs, tactical assaults, coups, history – from pre medieval to recent, politics, psychopathic masterminds, SAS, SVR, molotov cocktails, vehicular chases, blood and gore, realistic technology, and a cluster@#$% of a good time.
Being virtuous in a grim world takes a toll on the protagonists of this book. Eugene, being the ‘action’ hero, does not have a military or an intelligence background like most generic characters in the genre. His former career as a rescue operations officer, along with his action packed escapades in the previous books, has toughened him for the gritty role. Plus, his martial arts talent also comes in handy. Constantine, the academic who’s been a historian and an intelligence analyst in his former careers, gets into a rough spot but keeps his wits, will, and toughness with him to survive.
There are sequences in the book where many of the secondary characters who are very important to the story keep dropping dead in the spirals of chaos which the author, Ian, orchestrates brilliantly with his complex plot and crisp narration. There are loads of shocking moments and provocative scenes which are handled well considering their grim and darkly disturbing nature. I recognized the cameos of a couple of thriller writers whose names have been used for certain minor characters which worked as fun Easter eggs. Overall, this book works as a standalone, but it’ll make you read the previous books and keep coming back to get more doses of the escapades of the Sokolovs.